Back in the ‘real’ world, my spider sense tingled. A friend approached and offered me a ride to get a good deal on drugs. The trip there was ordinary, getting the drugs was ordinary, even the ride back seemed ordinary. “Just drop me off at the next corner and I’ll be on my way.” When he didn’t I knew something was up. “Hey, I live back there. Stop the car. I want to go home.” He didn’t. All of a sudden the sound of sirens sent me into a state of panic. Was I being set up? Was he on their side? If he was then the cops sure were digging in the bottom of the barrel for recruitments. Either way, my introduction to trusting others was not going as planned.
Hand in pocket; I took out my drugs and pipe. A quick polish removed evidence of fingerprints before sliding them under the seat. Even I was amazed at how smooth a criminal I’d become, but it was his game – not mine. Handcuffed and put into the back of the police car we made our way back to the cop shop. Thank God, I was only a little high or I might’ve gone absolutely insane. Contradictory to all expectations, calmness seemed to feed off the drug-induced high. Playing the game like a good little captured boy, I entered pleaser mode. “Yes sir. No sir. Three bags full sir!” I even started to laugh a little. Of course all that was all about to change.
‘Right, go in there and wait to get checked.’ Not knowing what was going on I prepared for the worst. I soon found out. It was a cavity search! I cringed. Yet as hard as it was, I couldn’t help but feel for the police offer having to conduct the probe. “Nice job. Find anything interesting? Glad to see your education is working for you,” I said in mock defiance of authority. He looked right through me. Escorted to the cell, I stayed the night courtesy of our very own court system.
The next day, I prepared to leave. ‘Stand on the blue line,’ an officer said. Not knowing what he was talking about I just stood there like a dummy. ‘I said stand on the fucking blue line you fucking idiot,’ he snarled again. “Don’t talk to me like that!” I snarled back, looking him directly in the eye. The whole energy of the place changed. A female officer looked back at him with a smirk as if to see what he’d do. Even though I’d been in the wrong, I wasn’t an animal and didn’t want to be talked to like one. Looking around me at a room full of cops, I reevaluated my place. “What blue line are you talking about?” I asked more politely. ‘That one there one floor,’ he pointed. “Oh. Well why didn’t you say so,” I snapped back. Then moved before he could accuse of non-compliance. After my picture was taken, I signed a few papers and was released.
Then I saw it. Everything was so logical and processed. So much so I thought about what it would take to stay another night. It was better than the streets! I snapped out of it. It wasn’t a hotel, it was a police station and God only knew the influence it’d have on me if I caved into such an idea. I had to do something fast or end up slipping through the cracks and becoming a ward of the state and then….
Back in civilization I told people what’d happened and they laughed. ‘Didn’t you know he didn’t have a license?’ “What?” ‘C’mon, who in their right mind would give him one?’ I felt like a fool. Yet a lucky fool none the worse for wear. But that was only the beginning in my lessons in gullibility.
Tired of feeling persecuted, I fought back as only a madman knew how: I gonged the gongers. In true mad style I taped a small flashlight and the back-end of an older model video camera – complete with dangling circuitry for effect – to each arm of a pair of gaudy cheap sunglasses. Then with the flashlight turned on I walked around day and night pretending to video anyone looking at me. It was a gong show worthy of first prize. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the street kids who didn’t like to be looked at, a lot of regular people hated it too!
Taking my show one step further I wore an ADIDAS top and wrote on it in true punk fashion: ‘Another Day I Dine on Another Soul.‘ Then using a medium-sized mirror, I pretended to trap the souls of those who dared give me dirty looks – which was just about everyone! After feasting on a few, my stomach turned. I was becoming that which I feared the most: a new demon-spawn recruited into the ranks of hell. Putting aside my own fears, I turned to my heart and released the captured souls back to God. Putting the mirror aside, I awaited my punishing rewards: judgment in the real world.
With Halloween around the corner, I stopped and put on a show for the artists at Emily Carr across the way. Not caring if they could see me or not, the real artists, the psychics and ‘freaks’ of the art world could at least tune their psychic TV sets to my channel and watch me put on a mask workshop.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen and honored guests. Today we’re going to learn how to make a mask out of nothing at all! (Applause). Take this and that, paste it to that and this. Cut out this and put it on that. Twist that into this and voila. A mask from nothing. (Claps and raucous applause). Smiling from head to toe, around me the flail of my art show finally hit home. I was coming undone and loving every single moment of it! A car appeared and sped away. “Don’t like my mask, eh? Obviously a philistine,” I said, chuckling to myself. Other cars appeared before speeding away. “Okay, okay, I get the message.” A security guard appeared waving his arms sporting his own aggressive mask. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m going.” Bowing to my invisible audience, “and that brings to an end today’s lesson boys and girls. Stay tuned because in a few days Halloween will be upon us.” I picked up my stuff and left.
When the inevitable day came, I dressed from head to toe in black clothes saved especially for the occasion. Sunglasses under a toque pulled over my face darkened and blurred vision. Wearing a ring of garlic on my head like a crown, I stood alone at the entrance to the Burrard Street Bridge watching the traffic. Feeling like Sauron‘s chief lieutenant from The Lord of the Rings, I snapped pictures of passersby with a disposable camera trapping their etheric bodies within its film. ‘Play the game Mike its easy’ my friend had said. But when i did where was the STC (Show Time Crew) when I needed them?
I even tried staying with my brother, but after a while, I couldn’t live with myself anymore. Besides, getting home after midnight or even later was upsetting his schedule. No, he was one person I respected enough to not mess around with.
Still tying up loose ends, I paid Zack a visit. Unlike before when I went over to get high, this time around I had an ulterior motive – my sanity. Feeling the need to get a dose of just how insane life could be, I knew no better or safer place than his. Boy was I right. People came and went like the busiest intersection making my own mental demons seem like they were daydreaming in comparison. Assertive, yet sarcastic at the same time, I told him how grateful I was for being there. It made my own craziness seem almost normal. I wasn’t putting him down, just stating obvious fact like he did. He didn’t like that, but his feelings were his and not mine to care-take anymore. as satisfying as it was, it was also disheartening that I needed to limbo dance and ‘lower my standards’ in order to feel better. I thanked him earnestly for the lesson he provided for me.
Now that I’d got some craziness out of my system, I felt a little more secure within myself. I moved in with a gay couple who’d known me in better times. Even when unexpressed, my own sense of undeservedness was always tinged with the guilt of not being able to pay back. Why couldn’t I just accept the help I so desperately needed and not always keep score? In the meantime, I landed a part-time job at a new restaurant/lounge, but being thrown into the public eye was too much for my paranoid schizophrenic mind to bear. Terrified of being publicly ridiculed, it was no surprise I was let go and had to move out at the same time. Oh well, at least I’d tried. Any step in the right direction had to count for something.
In November, I stayed with another gay couple who were nice enough to take me in for a few weeks. I tried really hard to stay off the drugs and out of their hair when I used, but the guilt was overwhelming. Still I made lasting friendships with them. Eventually, I reunited with another friend who took me under her wing and I stayed with her family. Moving to New Westminster was so far away I wasn’t sure they used the same currency. Skytrain rides were hellish to put it mildly, but if I was going to learn how to live in society I allowed myself free rein to feel every feeling that arose.
It hurt incredibly to think I was even remotely bringing trouble to their doorstep, especially with children involved. To me, children could always sense when grown-ups were messed – no matter how much they tried denying it. I had. Worse, in them I saw the innocence I’d thrown away. Rather than give into the bad feelings, I learned from them. Instead of feeling bad, I felt the feeling to make sure I didn’t want to feel that way again! So, I did something about it for once. I took a break, went for a walk and even ate something. Anything but sit and stew in them. Remarkably, I was able to get an apartment for the New Year. Unfortunately, I had to spend weeks over Christmas back downtown.
Gone only a few weeks, the streets had devolved into a state of madness that even I found repulsive. My friend reminded me that it might be showing me how much I had changed; it hadn’t. I was seeing it truthfully for once. In spite of making sense, wounded pride kept any positive change at arm’s length. But this time I saw what I was doing! No wonder incremental inner changes were so often overlooked.
Walking through the forest of my past, mind danced down memory lane, tripping over song and landing in a cushioned melody. For the first time in decades, I began to play and laugh not out of spite, but sheer joy: ‘hiding out in treetops, calling out rude names’ just like in the Peter Gabriel song ‘Games Without Frontiers‘. While my music didn’t sit well with the rap-rebels, I didn’t care either. I was having way too good a time to let them spoil my bit of fun now. Imagine: seeing a madman riding a bike humming the strong ‘melodic’ bass line of PIL’s Annalisa was tormentingly fun in the sense of power and madness I exuded. ‘Annalisa was 15 years, stole her soul, but I hear no tears. Ever been alone and heard the voice? Not your own, I’ve seen those fears. Annalisa, Annalisa, Annalisaaagghhh!‘
Kurt reappeared out of the blue and apologized for gonging me so badly. Suspicious, we went for a walk as he tried to entrap me once again, but this time he was the one dismissed. Leaving, I looked Kurt straight in the eye and told him my karmic debt with him was paid. Next up was Tom.
In what was to be my last time binning with him, I found a cell-phone nearing journey’s end. It would’ve been so easy to just get a few dollars or a few points of jib for it. Because I’d found it at the back of a shed, I felt out the energy and reasoned it’d been left there inadvertently. So, pushing my social anxiety aside, I did what no madman would ever do – or maybe he would! – I knocked on a few doors of the apartment complex and asked if anyone had lost a phone. Sure enough, by the second house I found its rightful owner. When he asked what I wanted for it, I simply told him about my situation and asked that he pray like he had never prayed before for my soul. That was payment enough.
Naturally Tom was furious for me not playing the game by the rules, but as I told him: ‘all rules are constructs of the mind and subject to interpretation anyway.’ He called me a ‘rat’, but it was funny how ‘rat’ had evolved from someone who informed the cops to doing a good deed. No, I wasn’t a ‘rat’ and if I was then he and everyone were ‘rats’ too. It was all perspective. He stormed away. That time I didn’t follow him. Overwhelmed by such emotional bravery, I passed out on the street.
Back downtown, I ran into Zack in the park. As we talked, someone approached bitching and complaining about being beaten up by others for doing what others had shown him how to do. Next, he took everyone on a journey that by all accounts would’ve made any hypnotist jealous. As he recounted a shopping bag being placed over one’s head and the hammer coming down to fall upon the head, I stood there awed yet scared too. Here was someone who had an incredible gift, but needed to stop taking his problems out on others first. When he’d finished, I shook my head as if awakening from a dream then told Zack I was leaving. When I retold the story to my meditation teacher she expressed her admiration for my actions. Whereas I thought I was a coward for leaving others in his mercy, she felt I’d shown them another course of action to take. Apparently courage didn’t always involve confrontation. Another lesson learned – many more to go!
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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