To One in the Dark II

(Please read this series of entries sequentially…from the bottom up.)

Context: Rudy’s Direct Transmission
Rudy was rare; probably one of the last in the U.S. to die of general paresis, said to have been the death of Nietzsche. Once I knew another man who’s problems with a severed arm entailed him to share space in a veteran’s hospital with Rudy and who came to hate him because Rudy screamed almost all night long—a non-mediated experience for both as I understood it. Rudy’s life as the apotheosis of the non-mediated distinguishes him as a polarity to the sprouts of Integral Man, thus making our story in time and kind a fruitful place to pick up this report.

Rudy had been a cavalry man with General Pershing when the U.S.Army chased Poncho Villa around in Mexico. And then he went to France for WW I and survived enough field promotions to make lieutenant. That was probably the height of his life’s conventional successes and perhaps the very reason why they were so few and far between the rest of his life. After the war he was a vagabond based out of Chug water, WY, USA, which was then and still is, always has been, 200 souls in a dusty patch seven blocks wide, a quarter of a mile long and 12 miles west of a ranch where I spent my first six years. My dad had been around there, off and on, since he was nine or 10 one hundred years ago. He and Rudy were cronies, a word my mother bantered around the kitchen as we dined in the breakfast nook and Rudy sat on the counter and drank up the rubbing alcohol my dad had offered him as his last resort de jour. Rudy drank too much of anything that could pour, ran with too many scandalizing women; he liked to steal chickens and come around to our house at 2 a.m. for a place to fry them up. He worked for us from time to time.

There was once in Chugwater a drug store on the northwest corner of the only real crossroads in town, Clay Street and the Pan American Highway. North of the drug store was a vacant lot that was fronted along the Pan American by a high board fence. Chugwater didn’t have a pool hall any longer so the sorts of rounders and aged desperados who loiter against the dark back walls of such places in towns where pool halls survive had to supply their own milk crates and broken chairs for loitering arrangements along the fence. There, when the weather permitted, they would sit through the indolent day times, watching a world en route to the Yukon or headed toward Argentina or any point in between. When Rudy was in town this was his scene. Chugwater was a hard case and the loafers on the fence row helped make it that way. I wondered at them every time I went past.

On the day in question, five years and a couple of months into my life, I was going with my dad to get a pickup load of gravel from a pit down the Pan American toward Cheyenne. Rudy was coming along to help; he’d be picked up at the drug store.For forgotten reasons a plan developed where I would ride into town with my mother and be dropped off at the drug store to await the other two. And so it was that my post that afternoon was a stool at the soda fountain and the store owner’s charge was to guard me with his life. I had been there only minutes when Rudy walked in. He bought a six-pack of beer for the work ahead and for me a green glass bottle of Coca Cola. I had never had one before because those were the days when Coke still contained dope and was not for children my age. Then he held the door open and said to me, “Let’s wait out here.”

The owner protested, said my mother had left him in charge, but Rudy swore all would be well. He ushered me to a perch on a stump or the butt of a railroad tie along the fence and said something about how only kids sat at soda fountains while I was of a quality to sit with the men. He took the next stump down and opened a beer. I remember Rudy grinning like a man supremely pleased with a moment for we, a wry old rogue and a little boy, were drawing all kinds of reviews from those who passed. I could imagine Rudy as King of the World because I knew I was next in the line of succession

It was a simple spontaneous event of passage; a raw, absolute and irreducible event, a critical social and self redefinition, an integrating redirection of expanding energies, an infusion of shakti to reform and inform for life the integral whole of a being. There are events of passage that arise from a natural engagement with one’s milieu and then there are rites of passage. Reality is indiscriminate with matters of passages and distributes the events at random; “time and chance happeneth,” and all of that. No one is vouchsafed an event. Those cultures and their subs that value a certain egalitarian leveling of social standing invented rites of passage to warrant that those of its young who happened to miss out on a pivotal engagement of the natural sort still would carry weight. True, rites are events, but moreover they are spectacles in the sense that all participants are to a large degree spectators and almost by definition, manageable. Rites are always managed; they are product, they are media. They are that which is contrived to carry the contrived effective agent, that which separates the initial cause from the downstream effect and often obscures one from the other. Rites like all media are the entropic, coagulated membrane in between. I have heard it said, but never witnessed the proof, that a culture invested in simulation will prefer rituals over the natural and will elevate the linguistic origin and style of such gimmicks above the often mute actions that are sourced in a spontaneous, unplanned event. The ritual that comes to replace the latter always germinates from the heirloom seeds of media: words. Well adjusted words, unlike the chaos apropos of unprocessed events can be managed and massaged toward a certain effect. Words are always considered the contrivance tools of choice by the managers of a simulation invested culture and the media-ridden culture of the Integral Province, if nothing else, is one that is founded on words.

Context: Words
The One-of-a-Kind Blizzard Copy of the Oxford Unabridged…it couldn’t have been anything less. The time was about 10 p.m.Nov. 18, 1989. All that wasn’t white was black; glaring white words ripping through the dark. After 12 hours of near to death unconsciousness, I was being blown back toward life on a dazzling squall of all the world’s words. Every last one of them was a cheap, easily had, easily spent, ink scratch, or tongue-warped puff of air, litter of verbs, nouns, modifiers, pronouns and articles, mediators, all of them. I never understood why I would be blown back from the vault of death by a howling blizzard of words, but I know they were present in totally random, incoherent, confusion; a visual word salad, words as bulk commodity, words yet to be processed out on that infinite line between ignorance and enlightenment. They were not ready for market, but by that time the word market was a dead district for me. Ten years had passed since I had stopped selling words. For the 15 prior, people paid me to tell them what I knew (but they didn’t) by arranging a selection of words on a page. Then I would go somewhere else, learn something else and arrange words befitting that particular circumstance on yet another page. It is a fairly curious occupation if one thinks about it much. When I left that trade I had no familiarity with Continental philosophers, yet they could have told me nothing new of the feeble pretension of words and the naive fantasy that one can communicate truth.

In those earlier years I wrote of politics, culture and the law, and by the age of 30 I have been honored with national prizes for my investigative magazine work and the inclusion of essays in a couple of learned anthologies and a legal journal; learned in that the editors told me they were pushing my words so others could learn. But I had my doubts. I studied the readers’ habit and my own as a reader. Finally I added the weight of my suspicion that journalism was almost totally simple entertainment to the conviction that making one’s living sitting down is, on the face of it, menial, and the sum of those two sentiments sunk the word career. In later years I came to question my conclusion as the the readers’ will to read. I might have given too much weight to my own bias. Maybe those readers actually sought those words for their educational value; maybe they had that depth of trust. I didn’t. I had been in the racket too long, too long in a mix of law, culture and politics to trust anything I read or heard. I would stipulate to nothing except that an author (myself included) had put words on a page, a speaker (likewise myself) had put sounds in the air, but belief from those points on was subject to significant risk. If I wanted to learn I would have to go to the source, the physical evidence, examine the smoking gun, inveigle the actual witnesses or do the deeds myself. I became a private investigator. And even from that more commanding vantage ground and even with the data amassed from the evidentiary essentials and the earnest, dogmatic testaments of the true believers and the supercilious, dogmatic counter-testaments of their co-dependent skeptics, I would still never bet the farm or even lunch on anyone’s propositions.

Context: True Belief
I was folding the retainer check into the bill clip when the lawyer who had just written it said, “…and I want you to bring me back the truth.”
“I’ll bring back a certifiable story the jury can buy, but there’s no guarantee as to the truth of it,” I told her.
“Don’t say that,” she replied, “I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it.”

Lawyers, seen as a flock, cannot survive any time at all outside of some level of certainty and the world is a sorrier place for such weaknesses as theirs. But within their lack is a monetary benefit that flows to those of us who know the three cardinal axioms of a good investigation: 1) never believe, 2) never believe, 3) never believe. Some of us can frolic in ambiguity until the cows might not come home for we know that certitude outside of instinct just bars the way to instinct. I did not acquire those sensibilities through concordance with the Continental philosophers, but developed them through time, from childhood, watching the world and always remembering how to run at large on unmediated apprehensions, how to work the signs and set headings by what was on the ground alone, then and there and marvel next at how quickly such traces could dissolve from view. The axioms and the privileged liberty to be vacated and insignificant and unaffiliated were, and still are, the most effective assets for dextrous navigation through the territories, pre-modern, modern, post-modern, post-post or whatever the era’s dubious i.d.
French philosophers?
I’ll circle back now to Baudrillard because it is a good rhetorical rule of thumb that any disquisition, no matter how extravagant in tone or content, will always seem a little more temperate and palatable if wrapped in a quote along the same lines from this author.

“If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map become frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts — the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.
“Abstraction today is not longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of real without origin or reality; a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — precession of simulacra — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were able to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. (Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed Mark Poster, Stanford University Press, 1998.)

Coming Next: To One in the Dark III — “To goddamned hell with maps…”


About Steven Nickeson

I've been a cowboy and a hobo and a truck driver and a newspaper reporter and magazine editor. I've written two text books on Native American property rights and been awarded national prizes for investigative journalism. I've ridden horses, all named Alpo, damned hard in the Westerns. I was once a range detective for Santo Domingo Pueblo and a private investigator for 18 years. I've also been a manuscript physician and writing tutor and journalism teacher and consultant to a literary agent. I've been a fencing contractor, and a welder in one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and read Nordic Runes as a contract oracle on several psychic hot lines. My occupation for the last 19+ years is "Artist/Blacksmith" and I've done better at being an artist than any other calling. For nearly half of my life I have had an address along The Pan American Highway (Carretera Panamericana) in five cities/towns/villages, five counties, four states, two nations, two continents. I am in some way wedded to that road. View all posts by Steven Nickeson

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