It is said that a man under torture can bear whatever he chooses to bear. When he succumbs it is of his own choosing.
Quiet moments are rare. The world does not relent, its greedy fingers wanting more. I am a mirrored sliver away from being shattered into a billion coloured kaleidoscopic fragments. Or from taking a fully automatic SMG to spray down the local mall.
There was plenty of silence as a kid. When you walked home by yourself with your satchel slung around a shoulder, kicking pine cones down the road with their clickety-clack echoes on the sidewalk. While waiting for mom to pick us up from tennis practice. I still feel the searing sun and the metallic taste of drinking water from hosepipes. Even in class, while the teacher weaved her chalk on the blackboard, I remember the silence. Long wafts of it. The chirps of birds perforated the classroom. My mind slinkering off into worlds filled with super heroes and tree houses.
And, subtly at first, the silence was replaced with elevator music floating into an ear drum like a morphine-soaked weavel. And then the traffic became louder so that weekend highways were much the same as week days. Time and sound smelted into an undistinguishable cacophony suffocating the world. And advertising boards. Don’t get me started on advertising boards. First it was the soda and tobacco companies with their extraordinary boards promising a better life. Fists would fly at school between those who wanted to be the Camel Man and the Marlboro man. As a Winston man myself, I avoided the fray. Surfing and cigarettes. That could have been a life for me.
And then some idiot jammed an electric cable into the boards and voila! TV on the streets. Pawing at us for attention. Look at me. Look at me. And we do. And no-one complains. And before you know it, they’ve come up with an advertising board that can fit in your pocket. And it beeps every five seconds to sell you something it says you need. And someone is trying to sell you life insurance. And the next guy is selling you bridge cover for your life insurance. And like that, the quiet is gone. And your mind becomes a cage of vipers.
Thoughts were clear before the chaos. The mind had an order about it. About when you first meet a person. And the spectrum spread before you. How will things turn out? Will you simply bump shoulders and go separate paths or will there be some sort of universal spark that connects your lives? And if so, where on the spectrum will the relationship lie?
Once that scenario triggers, my first thoughts look at it like a bookshelf. With book-ends holding love and light on one side, death and darkness on the other. Here’s a person before you. Where on this bookshelf will this new relationship lie? Will it hover somewhere in the middle near platonic friendship? Or maybe more? Maybe there will be children. Or maybe there will be a mortal enemy requiring extermination. I question whether any of us really have any control on where this relationship will end up across this slide rule. How much of the universe do we even control?
And look at what people do for money. Certain folk have cash, piles of the stuff. However the actions they have taken for that wealth are difficult. There was this one billionaire, not a wealthy man by birth. He would buy old buildings, one flea-infested apartment at a time, evicting derelicts, cleaning stains with bleach, slapping on white paint, placing an ad on the notice board of the lobby. After a year of this he had a few apartments. A few years later he bought the entire building. After removing the detritus and scraping stairwells, he barricaded the building’s entrance with a revolving steel door.
It was by controlling the influx of humanity and misery in and out those doors that allowed him to buy another building. And then another. One day – many years later – he looked at a piece of paper from the bank which confirmed what others had suspected. A billionaire! And now with those numbers on the piece of paper he would take the same walk to the broken parts of town, sipping at his usual cup of coffee and peering inside windows to see if any eyes peered back. This is the job. This is the reward. The price to pay for a title that informs people how many digits you have accumulated at the bank.
I look out for markers to assess people. A sign to see if I should engage with these people or not. Looking for an identifier to figure out the person across from you. The best markers are the cars people drive. Earlier this week a Porsche veered across a solid white line to cut the road in front of me. Its registration number contained the digits “911”. The car was the colour of a blue Smartie sucked in the mouth of a five-year-old and spat out onto the tarmac. It had a blue racing wing attached to the rear of the car. So many clear markers. Easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. It’s like having a statue outside your driveway or a Rothko in the kitchen. It helps identity the diversion of our species. It tells you everything you need to know about an individual.
And yet my concern lies not with those you can spot but those you cannot. The people without markers. You look at them, see what they do, what they drive, what art work they put in their houses and you can’t place them. They work in industries which reward pedlars of confusion. Murky waters is where they make their living. Creating confusion to extract advantages for their masters. Chaos as a canvas. Inventing diversions to sustain disorder and pave roads to riches. But there are many, so many. Politicians, media, banking, hedge fund managers, big pharma, salesmen, marketing, human resources, YouTubers, engineers, architects, teachers, lawyers, everyone in government, insurers, healthcare providers, doctors (also nurses), priests, funeral directors, psychologists, the mechanic. Especially the mechanic. They love their confusion. Their noise. Their government-fuelled regulations making sure we all dance to the same tune. Like toy horses bobbing up and down on the merry-go-round.
There was plenty of silence as a kid. Too quiet sometimes. But things were clear. Now though, the noises and voices and ringtones and flashes blot out the quiet within.
And I am not sure I can take it.