This , for some reason, makes me think about many of the things we need to think about as tellers of stories and makers of theater.
For your reading enjoyment.
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
“You’re playing to an empty house . . .”
It’s old trembling, teenaged Mr. Whittier. Our dying skater punk. Our spotted little devil.
Walking. A cadaver in tennis shoes. A stereo headset looped around the back of his withered neck.
“Listen to yourselves,” he says. Shaking his head, his few hairs swinging, he says, “You’re so busy telling your stories to each other. You’re always turning the past into a story to make yourselves right.”
What Sister Vigilante would call our culture of blame.
It never changes, he says. The other group he brought here, it ended this same way. People fall so in love with their pain, they can’t leave it behind. The same as the stories they tell. We trap ourselves.
Some stories, you tell them and you use them up. Other stores . . . and Whittier gestures at our skin and bones.
“Telling a story is how we digest what happens to us,” Mr. Whittier says. “It’s how we digest our lives. Our experience.”
Mr. Whittier would say. This little boy dying of old age...
“You digest and absorb your life by turning it into stories,” he says...
Other events – the ones you can’t digest – they poison you. Those worst parts of your life, those moments you can’t talk about, they rot you from the inside out...But the stories that you can digest, that you can tell – you can take control of those past moments. You can shape them, craft them. Master them. And use them to your own good.
Those are stories as important as food.
Those are stories you can use to make people laugh or cry or sick. Or scared. To make people feel the way you felt. To help exhaust that past moment for them and for you. Until that moment is dead. Consumed. Digested. Absorbed.
It’s how we can eat all the shit that happens...
We always do this, Mr. Whittier says. For the same reason our children’s children’s children’s children will always have war and famine and disease. Because we love our pain. We love our drama. But we will never, ever admit that...
* “Until you can ignore your circumstances, and just do as you promise,” he says, “you’ll always be controlled by the world ... What stops you here is what stops your entire life.”
The air will always be too filled with something. Your body too sore or tired. Your father too drunk. Your wife too cold. You will always have some excuse not to live your life.
* What you have to love about drinking is, every swallow is an irrevocable decision. You charging ahead, in control of the game. It’s the same with pills, sedatives and painkillers, every swallow is a definite first step down some road.
* This faded star. He’s happy and living in a two-bedroom house. Branching out from each eye, he has laugh lines. He takes pills to control his cholesterol. He’s the first to admit, after those years as the center of attention, he’s a bit of a loner. But he’s happy.
What’s important is, Dr. Ken has agreed. Sure, he’ll do an interview. A little profile for the Sunday Entertainment Section of the newspaper.
The editor I’m pitching to, he twists the end of a ballpoint pen in his ear, digging out wax. Looking worse than bored.
This editor tells me readers don’t want a story about somebody born cute and talented, getting paid a fortune to appear on television, then living happily ever after.
No, people don’t want a happy ending.
People want to read about Rusty Hamer, the little boy on Make Room for Daddy who shot himself. Or Trent Lehman, the cute kid from Nanny and the Professor who hanged himself on a playground fence. Little Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on Family Affair, clutching a doll named Mrs. Beasley, then swallowing the biggest overdose of barbiturates in the history of Los Angeles County.
This is what people want. The same reason we go to racetracks to watch the cars crash. Why the Germans say, “Die reinste Freude ist die Schadenfreude.” Our purest joy comes when people we envy get hurt. That most genuine form of joy. The joy you feel when a limousine turns the wrong way down a one-way street.
Or when Jay Smith, the “Little Rascal” known as Pinky, was found stabbed to death in the desert outside Las Vegas.
It’s the kind of joy we felt when Dana Plato, the little girl on Diff’rent Strokes, got arrested, posed naked in Playboy, and took too many sleeping pills.
People standing in line at the supermarket, clipping coupons, getting old, those are the headlines that sell these people a newspaper.
Most people, they want to read about Lani O’Grady, the pretty daughter on Eight is Enough, found dead in a trailer house with her belly full of Vicodin and Prozac.
No crack-up, the editor tells me, no story.
Happy Kenny Wilcox with his laugh lines, he wouldn’t sell.
* ...we love conflict, he says. We love to hate. To stop a war, we declare war on it. We must wipe out poverty. We must fight hunger. We campaign and challenge and defeat and destroy
As human beings, our first commandment is:
Something needs to happen.
“Any call for world peace,” Mr. Whittier would say, “is a lie. A pretty, pretty lie.” Just another excuse to fight.
No, we love war.
War. Starvation. Plague. They fast-track us to enlightenment.
“It’s the mark of a very, very young soul,” Mr. Whittier used to say, “to try and fix the world. To try and save anyone from their ration of misery.”
We have always loved war. We are born knowing that war is why we’re here. And we love disease. Cancer. We love earthquakes. In this amusement-park fun house we call the planet earth, Mr. Whittier says we adore forest fires. Oil spills. Serial killers.
We love terrorists. Hijackers. Dictators. Pedophiles.
God, how we love the television news. The pictures of people lining up beside a long, open grave, waiting to be shot by another new firing squad. The glossy newsmagazine photos of more everyday people torn to bloody shreds by suicide bombers. The radio bulletins about freeway pile-ups. The mud slides. The sinking ships.
His quivering hands telegraphing the air, Mr. Whittier would say, “We love when airplanes crash.”
We adore pollution. Acid rain. Global Warming. Famine...
“In our secret heart’s heart, we love to root against the home team.”
Against humanity. It’s us against us. You, the victim of yourself.
We love war because it’s the only way we’ll finish our work here. The only way we’ll finish our souls, here on earth: The big processing station. The rock tumbler. Through pain and anger and conflict, it’s the only path. To what, we don’t know.
* “You ever wonder,” Mrs. Clark says, “what you’ll do after you sell your old life?”
And the Matchmaker licks the spit off his lips, saying, “What do you mean? He hooks both thumbs behind the straps of his bib overalls.
“After you’ve sold this story,” Mrs. Clark says, “will you just look for a new villain?” She says, “For the rest of your life, will you be looking for someone new to blame everything on?”
* It was the moment after when people aw it wouldn’t hurt them. When people saw this was safe. It was the most lovely thing they’d ever seen. They fell back, too amazed to even smile. For the countless hours of that one long moment, they forgot everything important and watched the cloud of white wings twist up into the blue sky.
They watched it spiral. And the spiral open. And the birds, trained by many trips, follow each other away to someplace they knew every time was their real home.
“That,” Rand says, “Is what’s inside the Nightmare Box.”
It’s something that goes beyond life-after-death. What’s in the box is proof that what we call life isn’t. Our world is a dream. Infinitely fake. A nightmare.
One look, Rand says, and your life – your preening and struggle and worry – it’s all pointless.
The grandson crawling with cockroaches, the antiques dealer, Cassandra with no eyelashes wandering off naked.
All your problems and love affairs.
They’re an illusion.
“What you see inside the box,” Rand says, “is a glimpse of the real reality.”
The two people still sitting there, together on the concrete gallery floor, the sunlight from the windows and the street noise, it all feels different. It could be somewhere they’ve never been before. It’s right now the ticking from the box, it’s stopped.
And Mrs. Clark was too afraid to look.
* “Americans do drugs,” says Agent Tattletale, “because they don’t do leisure very well.”
Instead, they do Percodans, Vicodins, OxyContin...
Agent Tattletale, he says, “Americans are the worlds’ best at doing their work.”
And studying and competition.
But we suck when it comes time to relax.
There’s no profit. No trophy.
Nothing at the Olympic Games goes to the Most Laidback Athlete.
No product endorsements for the World’s Laziest anything.
His camera eye on auto-focus, he says, “We’re great at winning and losing.”
And nose grindstoning,
but not accepting. Not shoulder shrugging and tolerance.
“Instead,” he tells himself, “We have marijuana and television. Beer and Valium.”
And health insurance.
To refill, as needed.
* “Even if God won’t forgive us,” says the Baroness Frostbite,
“we can still forgive Him.”
We should show ourselves to be bigger than God...
Standing center stage, the Baroness Frostbite says, “We should forgive God . . .”
For making us too short. Fat. Poor.
We should forgive God our baldness.
Our cystic fibrosis. Our juvenile leukemia.
We should forgive God’s indifference, His leaving us behind:
Us, God’s forgotten Science Fair project, left to grow mold.
God’s goldfish, ignored until we’re forced to eat our own shit off the bottom.
* If we can forgive what’s been done to us
If we can forgive what we’ve done to others
If we can leave all our stories behind. Our being villains or victims.
Only then can we maybe rescue the world.
But we still sit here, waiting to be saved. While we’re still victims, hoping to be discovered while we suffer.