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From Out of Nowhere & Back To the Womb: We’re All In Some Kind of Pain

From Out of Nowhere & Back To the Womb: We’re All In Some Kind of Pain
February 21
23:00 2013

ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
Los Angeles

The man appeared in front of me. He blocked the sun that had been shining on my face. He wore a long sleeve flannel shirt with a lot of yellow checkers on it. He looked like an old professor. In one bloated, splotchy hand he held a pair of reading glasses.

“What book do you have there?” he asked. Before I could even form a conscious thought, I was handing it over and wondering where in the hell he’d come from.

I was sitting on a raised slab of concrete in the hectic courtyard outside the Los Angeles Central Library. I’d been using my smartphone to check if the Flower Cafe inside had good coffee. There’s nothing worse than getting a book from the library, and then purchasing a shitty cup of coffee to drink while you page through it.

“I take the bus, too,” the man said. His eyebrows were white and swirled over the bone ridge, and the tips of the hairs hung stiff just above his exposed eyeballs. The bushiest eyebrows I’d ever seen appeared combed, because of the disciplined swoop they formed. For years, it seemed, the old man had taken a brush and given them many strokes a day.

BoysonthebusIt’s called The Boys on the Bus, I said, and pointed to the book. Have you heard of Timothy Crouse? He documented the reporters and journalists who covered the 1972 Nixon election. Famously, he wrote about his fellow Rolling Stone colleague, Hunter S Thompson. Crouse does a stellar job explaining ‘pack journalism’, and how so many secrets stay in Washington because of it, and why every newspaper seems to carry the same story.

“I’ve vaguely heard of Thompson. You know,” he said and paused, handing the book back to me, “if you took a newspaper from the ’70s and compared it to today, it would be the same BS then as now. If you cut out the headlines and put them together with yesterday’s newspaper, you’d find the same stories, but different names.”

Principles, I said. The same themes and problems.

“A celebrity or official scandal of some kind,” he said. “A fraudulent banking system. Right and left politics. An illegitimate, unlawful war overseas. And somebody is sleeping with somebody else’s wife.”

The man, I’d later find his name was Carl, stood so close to me our knees nearly touched. Should I have offered him a seat beside me on that warm chunk of concrete? I craned my neck to make constant eye contact while he spoke.

Am I in pain? Are you in pain? Are WE in pain?

Behind Carl a tough security guard in a black suit strolled back and forth in front of the steps leading into the library. Beneath the trees of the courtyard were other humans, some of them clearly homeless or drifters — some read, others sat quietly and looked at the trees or the ground or the people around them, and a couple others ate sandwiches. At the far end, and beneath a tree, a woman in tight jean shorts and a faded green jacket that hung nearly to her knees talked to herself.

“All these people are in pain,” Carl said. “We’re all in some kind of pain,” he said.

Was I in pain? I thought about it while Carl watched me. Yes, I was. I felt lousy. Anxious — wondering what kind of professional job I’d find now that my graduate schooling was finished and I needed an adult career with an adult paycheck. My dentist said I was grinding my teeth worse than he’d ever seen anybody my age grind their teeth. It’s because I cover politics, I’d told him. “If you want teeth left when you’re sixty-five years old, you’d better stop,” he said.

Terrified — knowing so many others in this sprawling third-world, Banana Republic city, as well as the rest of the nation, can’t find good-paying work, or any work at all, and how unsettling that is. How demeaning it is.

Heartsick — the levels of poverty perfectly visible everywhere I go, especially the library, where cops and security guards have to patrol the grounds and each floor inside to keep the crazy and impoverished out. Lost — what would the point of getting a good-paying job be anyway? Just to make money? To pay bills and repay loans? But all of that to sacrifice the freedom of the soul, and the freedom to have as much energy as is needed to pursue true passions and interests.

“Do you know why,” Carl finally said, “do you have any idea why everybody is in pain?”

How do I start answering that? I said.

“It’s really quite simple,” he said. “Anything in this life that isn’t simple is either accidentally or purposefully complicated for a reason. And it’s never to benefit us. The economy is a great example of a system that should be simple. Everybody needs to make a living. Everybody has to have money,” Carl said. “And there’s plenty of work to be done, so why can’t people get paid to do it? Yet, all those people out there need a job and can’t find one.”

He turned his body slightly toward the library. I thought he was going to go. Where had he come from, anyway? I was still spooked by how he’d popped into my vision. He was too clean and fresh to be homeless, but maybe very lonely to engage me about the simple title of the book I held.

“Do you know why everybody is in pain?” he asked again.

I don’t know, I said. I really have no idea.

“Exactly.” Carl shifted toward the steps again. The security guard walked by. He bent forward, watching us. I put on a smile so he wouldn’t think Carl was bothering me. The guard, with the bright sunshine beaming off his black head, eyed us for a few more moments before he left.

“Nobody knows,” Carl said, “and that’s why so few people can stop being in pain. Psychology will drag you all over the place trying to figure out what’s wrong with you. But it’s not about the fancy syndromes and diagnoses. It’s about what happened to you in the womb, and in childhood. If you don’t go back and start unpacking those first traumas, you’ll never be delivered from your agony.”

You mean Freud, and psychoanalysis? I asked.

from Sigmund Freud museum

“Freud started off good, in the first two pages of Civilization and Its Discontents, he nailed it. Humans seek to avoid pain. But then, he goes off into that shit about wanting to fuck your mother.” Carl shook his head. He glanced behind him to see the handful of people spread around the courtyard.

“The traumas in the womb cause major discontent. It’s handed down generation to generation. If your mother was the angry type, you felt that in the womb.” He held his hands in front of his belly,the reading glasses dangling between his last two fingers, and made the motion of packing a snowball.

“If she was the anxious type, you, the sentient being in that womb, absorbing the same oxygen, water, and food, felt it. And it affected you. The anxiety or fear or anger, or whatever it was your mother suffered from, didn’t stop after you were born. It continued through childhood and became your way of life.”

So if a person doesn’t make a conscious effort to alleviate those traumas from the earliest points of existence, they’ll haunt that person until the end.

“And it’s painful,” Carl said. “It gets worse before it gets better. People avoid it. They avoid pain. Even though they’re in pain, they want to avoid heaping more of it onto themselves.”

What about past lives, I said. If you smooth what happened in the womb, what if you’re still hung up on an unimaginable act of incest or murder or being tortured by overzealous clergymen in a church dungeon seven hundred years ago? I was just telling a girl that if she didn’t shape up, her future incarnations would get mucked up and she’d be born a peasant or sex slave in a developing nation that owes all its blood and treasure to the World Bank.

Carl stared at me for a moment. “I would worry about this lifetime first,” he said.

The security guard walked by again. He watched us. I watched him back this time. He disappeared past Carl. If only I’d had a scissors in my backpack, I could have put Carl in a choke hold and gone to work trimming back those prairie-grass eyebrows. Prairie grass that had been bent over by an extreme wind howling through the Midwest.

Who was that guy? Paranoia sets in…

Carl said it was time for him to get into the library. We shook hands. I sat for a few minutes after that. The woman in the shorts and over-sized green jacket had stopped talking. Instead, she lowered her jaw, and she snapped it shut. Over and over again. She stared ahead, but at what, I couldn’t tell. A young man with a dark beard and long hair pulled into a ponytail rested his elbows on his knees. His head hung low. The part in his hair faced me. A stuffed duffle bag beside him.

A young Asian guy with gelled hair ate a sandwich. He sat at a round, green table in his suit and tie and stretched his neck toward his hands, in which he held the bread and whatever was between it. His gray slacks were lifted almost halfway up his shins. Black socks and shoes beneath.

Hallucinations of the Quixote

Suddenly, I had the terrifying thought that Carl might have been an hallucination. I was in a troubled state of mind, and have been in one for weeks. Maybe I’d conjured him to appear before me. If it were so, what did the bushy eyebrows mean about my psyche? Why had I materialized (in my small sphere of reality) an old man in a yellow checkered shirt?

Why had he come to talk to me, anyway? Had he really been interested in Timothy Crouse’s book? Or the word ‘bus’ on the cover? Just because he rode the city bus? Was Carl the modern archetype for an angel that appears and offers advice? What had happened to the blinding light that forced humans to their knees and made their quivering voices call out to almighty God to dim the brights a little?

The Fight Club paranoia washed over me. My hands became sweaty. I thought of the people in the film watching Ed Norton’s character speak with Tyler Durden. Once you know Durden’s not really there, you see the other characters in the background giving Norton extended glances and puzzled looks. Who is he talking to?

Was that why the security guard had looked me up and down while I talked to Carl? I pictured myself as he might have seen me, sitting in the sun, long haired, lightly bearded, and looking like a pathetic vestige of my manlier, more impressive ancestors, the Vikings, and talking to no one.

The concept is simple, simple as the sun…

Another crazy, the guard might have thought, watching me crane my neck at a sharp angle, as I concentrated on the peculiar face of a man who didn’t even exist, yet appeared before me anyway to say I’m not the only one who’s fucked up in this world. Most everybody is, and it all leads back to the beginning. And it’s going to take serious treatment and unwavering dedication to begin loosening the general pain and sadness afflicting us.

And while we’re reaching back, looking for clues, don’t be distracted by the superficial details, which are always changing, despite humanity’s themes, and woes, remaining very consistent. We all want to avoid pain. We all need to live, and keep alive. Which means we all need money. We all need basic subsistence. And, really, there should be plenty of opportunity and chance for money, resources, and land for everybody.

The solar system, as we understand it

How complicated it seemed, Carl had said when he spoke of simplicity, when civilizations thought the sun revolved around the earth. How unpredictable and difficult it was to map the orbits of the other planets. Until astronomers discovered that the earth actually revolved around the sun, and that the sun was the center of the universe, did understanding the solar system and its bodies become much simpler.

It’s possible the concept holds true for many of us on an inner level. Maybe we need to realize the major entities in existence do not revolve around us, but all of us around whatever that hot, heavy center happens to be. Perhaps the next step for those of us who are mentally troubled is to find our personal suns. To use all of our awareness and intuition to pinpoint where exactly our universe dips under the weight and source of all creation.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 24, 19:36

    Ah, the LA library, a magnet for the dispossessed and for Prince Mishkin-like characters like you and me. I was once kicked out of the library cafeteria for scribbling on my yellow pad too long after my coffee had grown cold. And yes, the job thing is excruciating. I was looking at recent stats, Jobs Available: Poets & Visionaries–0, Security Guards–86,000,000,000. It looks as though we’re going to have to be content with our hallucinations.

    Donald O’Donovan

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