"This is ridiculous," I said, "look at this." The book was on a cart at the front of the store. One-dollar bargains.
The blonde-haired girl zoomed in, looked at the cover, then at me. "So?"
"I always thought the worst fate an author could face was to find his own work in the one-dollar bargain bin. And this guy deserves it."
"I don't get it," she said.
"Doesn't the title sound revoltingly stupid to you?"
"'Learn Electricity and Electronics...'" She shrugged.
"Learn electricity. Repeat that to yourself a couple times. Learn electricity. How the hell do you learn electricity?"
"So, it's missing a word. Learn about electricity. So they left out the, 'about.' So what?"
"It's madness. Simply madness." I put the book back onto the bargain bin cart. "No one is paying a dollar for this. Nobody. We come back in fifty years, that thing will still be there and electricity will still be unlearned, as it should be."
"Let's get some ice cream."
"But it won't restore my confidence in reality."
"The rest of us are really not worried about that."
"My point, exactly."
"I mean - the rest of us are not worried that you don't have confidence in reality. Reality is just fine for us."
I picked up the book again and held it to her. "Well, then why not learn electricity for a dollar?"
"Because I already know a dollar's worth."
I put back the book. We got ice cream.
Everything stayed the same.
I have decided that the fatal dose of Zolpidem is six. I have gathered accidental data.
The blonde-haired girl and I were on a plane home from Paris and I had been poisoned by French food. My temperature was elevated and my entire alimentary canal, though previously emptied of all contents, ached and complained it wished no further participation in sustenance of my corporeal self.
I tried to sleep on the 12-hour flight from Paris to San Francisco, but the pain was constant. Lucky for me I had my bottle of prescription sleeping drugs, and so I took one Zolpidem.
The effects come on quickly and in fact I did fall asleep rather rapidly. Though my sleep was to be interrupted repeatedly by severe stomach pain that penetrated the drug-induced sleeping haze.
After half an hour the pain subsided but I could not get back to sleep and I decided to do something I had never done before, which was to eat another Zolpidem. Fifteen minutes after the second pill, I was asleep again.
Over Greenland there was some severe turbulence - enough to rouse me from my two-Zolpidem sleep.
Now, one who believes he is conscious after two Zolpidem only realizes there is no such thing until after the effects are worn off and one remembers the stupidity in which one had been engaged under the influence. As for fully-drugged me, the terms reasonable and unreasonable were fluid and interchangeable - so it seemed a great idea to remain unconscious through g-force turbulence by eating yet another pill.
That made three, for those keeping count.
My next memory is of trying to exit the plane in a mental fog in which I was quite unbound by the requirement to control the physical self. I got through border control and customs, reclaimed my luggage, wound up in the airport limo and then later, home in my own bed all due to the watchful guidance of the blonde-haired girl.
When I next awoke in full possession of my mental facilities I was overcome with the horror of how totally I had poisoned myself, and how close I had come to being comatose, and how it felt to be barely connected to the Earth at large. I reasoned then, and still do, that a fourth Zolpidem would have rendered me completely inert, and a stretcher would have been required to get me off the plane.
Scientifically, then, I conclude that five Zolpidem probably would have killed me, but who knows - maybe net body mass it would be fatal for some people and not others.
Six is a death sentence. I am sure.
I remind myself of this every time I take one to get myself into a blissful sleep which nature has long since ceased to provide.
Each night I am 1/6th the way to death.
My ex-wife once asked me, "You mean, if I had asked you to stay, you would have?" about my leaving after we decided to get a divorce.
"Yes," I said. "But you didn't."
This is another form of death.
You can put that on my tombstone.
And this is another form of death:
The day before my daughter's wedding I ate what I thought was a peanut butter / chocolate candy and wound up under the influence of powerful drugs. The substances were placed in my refrigerator for safe keeping by the college students who frequent my home. The error in their thinking was that somehow I, the owner and primary inhabitant of this house, would never appropriate food placed haphazardly in my refrigerator freezer.
The packaging of the dosed confection did not provide any clue of its true content. I simply figured one of my family had tossed the candy into my freezer and had long forgotten it there.
Their loss, my gain, as is frequently used against me to stake claims to tasty foods in my home.
Things wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't eaten so much.
But I did. And they were.
The effects of the substance were slow in coming, distressing at their peak, and long lasting.
For me, an individual with high blood pressure that is hardly contained by handfuls of prescription medications - the accelerated heart rate alone was tantamount to a near death experience. And indeed, in the state of altered imagination and heightened sensory input I was certain that I would not survive the drug trip, not because of the alteration of reality with which I was already marginally familiar from my youth, but rather, due to the maintenance of presence of mind with which I perceived my BP had reached levels that would cause permanent damage to my already fragile cardiovascular system.
In retrospect, though, I am disappointed at my behavior. I now realize that when threatened with imminent death I am not the brave soldier I frequently imagine I might be - because I was not able to focus on my surroundings and how my condition was affecting others. Instead, I fixated on the foreboding visceral pain in my chest, the chemically induced fear which I could not distinguish from actual fear, and during the worst of it, the fight for consciousness rather than calculation of a rational solution.
In this state I counseled myself, my subconscious speaking to me like a doting parent. The voice was my own, calm and collected, and it wanted information. While I suffered a sentient piece of me wanted to gather as much information about this event as possible for future use.
"It makes no difference what has happened before or what will happen later. Now is. Be, now," I repeated to myself over and over, wondering why I was thinking that. My memory was hopelessly distorted by the drug and I could not track from one moment to the next. The linearity of time was disrupted, which another piece of me found unlivable. My mind fractured and I recognized that the ego is the piece of the self that wishes ultimate control of reality. But like the verses in "A Course of Miracles" it was horribly evident that the ego itself was an artifice which was neither immortal nor ultimately moral. I realized that the ego is a device for functioning in the "real" world and it can be pushed aside.When that happens the real "you", whatever is buried under egos and ids and subconscious musings, finds itself in a battle for supremacy with those other fractious mental shards for the role of coordinating input from the outside to the self and constructing a model of the world at large.
My ego is a fierce fighter. It worked hard to reassemble a time line from the distortion it was receiving from my senses, and when it began to fail, it became fearful and angry. It threatened death to the rest of me.
"Now you feel what it is like to die. Total loss of self. Complete obliteration."
I did not like these thoughts in my head. They became concrete reality. Every thought amassed substance and I could not hide from the onslaught. It was like trying to dodge a rain of hammers by hiding under a cardboard box. I realized I was on the floor, shirtless, trying to merge with the Earth, some part of me talking to the blond-haired girl but most of me unable to comprehend what was being said by the piece of my mind in control of my mouth.
The calm me tried to get the rest of me to look aside from that.
"Cease to be concerned for the time line. Time is a perception construct, rather than a physical reality. True time is mutable, as any physicist can tell you."
But as imperfect as it is I - the ego "I" - did not want to lose my grip on my life because I knew that track of "me" through "time" is what I called "myself". Therefore, when it left I would die irrespective of whether or not by body survived.
And it occurred to me this state was indistinguishable from insanity. The failing structure of the rules of my mental processes was completely observable and I could "see", as if from a distance, exactly how and why some people exhibit mental dysfunction and some don't. I imagined my existing state of ultra-heightened sensory input and failing time line to be similar to that described by Oliver Sacks in those who have autism. A fire hose spewed sensory input brutally combined with internally manufactured ideas and I could not escape from the torrent.
The mechanism for hallucination became obvious. Normally, all senses and thought are filtered through this ego that separates its notion of fact from fiction and through the course of life we become comfortable with this discrimination as definitive God-determined truth. When the ego fails, the thought and sensory input become inextricably intertwined. The soul, then, cannot differentiate what is "real" and what has been manufactured by the imagination. Remembrance becomes concurrent with touch/smell/taste/sight/sound. In this state the time line provides no reference, and what you think may have happened is synonymous with the physical consensus reality others can verify.
So you find yourself asking others - "Did you see that? Did you hear that? Tell me I didn't imagine that."
I paced in circles. I was only comfortable focusing on material processes that had neither beginning nor end. I had to turn off the television. I could not track music. Another's touch set off alarms in my mind as if I was being shocked. The setting sun disturbed me so I closed the windows and focused on the floor as I walked without counting my steps. So I struggled with myself for hours that felt like days, reminding myself that my body would remain on the earthly time plane no matter where my mind went. So what seemed like hours to my mind was only truly minutes to my body, and the reason my body was not tiring as quickly as I expected was that it was firmly of the earth and would remain attached to it.
My cardiologist had warned me any pain in my chest warranted attention and could be the portent of my untimely end and I felt as if a panel truck had been parked on top of me. But was this physical death to be the end of it all, or was I merely experiencing my ego's struggle to retain control of that which was impossible for it to manage?
I paced in circles which had no beginning nor end, struggling to understand the value in this form of existence, understanding perfectly that the condition could, and would, last forever in one universe or another. The infinite was perfectly clear.
"Concentrate on being now," a part of me reminded the rest of me. "I will get through this, and then I will go back to work and living, and I will get through that, as with the rest of life."
I don't remember how it ended. When my heart rate reduced I wound up in bed and was able to sleep. When I woke I wished I could buy back the time I had wasted in that purgatory. For if there is a meaning to this life it is to live within it.
There is infinite time for the other.
I have written of that which I remember, but I am sure there was more. The blonde-haired girl tells me I spoke of energy fields and a struggle between opposing forces inside me.
I spoke of dying. Of knowing that if I lost consciousness I would not return.
What disappoints me most about the experience is that I could not find the strength to focus my attention on how my words would affect her, or frighten her for my safety.
Then I fully realized the strength of the zen masters, who upon escaping the bounds of the ego's time line, find themselves literally groundless and practically insane, and yet in this state master all their fear, surrender to the nothingness, and help others in the process.
I am a very long way from that.
I imagined I should find a way to significantly punish my offspring for poisoning me. But my creativity is lacking in the parental correction/retribution department. Perhaps I can take solace that the quantity of what I consumed might have cost a significant sum, though it doesn't seem adequate given the severity of the experience.
Perhaps I can send her my next EKG trace.
Most likely, I will continue to do my best to see she has better opportunity going through life than I did.
This is what fathers want for their children. It is an unalterable trait baked into DNA at birth. I can only love her and want her to live well.
Talks can be had and were. All of which is another way to say I am helpless in this regard.
During the experience, filled with dread and conflicting thought, the idea of learning electricity made perfect sense. Thus I determined there was a context and subtext to every human endeavor. While that author might have consciously produced a training manual for people interested in the fundamentals of home electronics, he had subconsciously produced a philosophical tome outlining the wisdom in the physical processes.
The meaning of life, as it were, is to be in this reality and gain from it. In that context learning electricity, gravity, motion, light, heat, exothermic reactions, and rolling friction, are all paths to God.
"I will never do that again," I said to the blonde haired girl, holding the dog leash. The dog snuffled and rooted around a patch of ivy, looking for a place to pee.
"Me neither," she said.
Until she said that, I had forgotten what we had both done. I had forgotten checking on her inert form over and over to make sure she was still breathing. But it was like something I had seen on television, rather than something lived my me. A chunk of time was missing as if it had been stolen and lived by someone else who got away laughing and sent me a scratchy video to gloat.
I said, "I kept checking to see if you were alive," trying to remember the mental movie plot. It was fuzzy.
One, ten, a hundred times I went to see if she was still warm.
"Maybe I imagined it," I said.
A week later: "Did that really happen? Did we lose a whole night? What day was that?"
"It must have been Friday because the garbage cans were still on the driveway Saturday morning when we got up."
We walked the dog to the park at the end of the block.
"Maybe we died," I said.
She said, "I have some salmon steaks for dinner. I could broil them with lemon and rosemary."
"We could get the ice cream for dessert and get those kids to smoosh the heath bars into it."
"Let's concentrate on the fish. It's good for you. You need your omega-3."
"Sure. More omega. Omega is full of reality."
Meanwhile the dog sniffed a gopher hole.
"What is life if we can change it so easily?" I said. "We can get right to the edge. Look right over like the grand canyon only scarier. Maybe none of this is what we think it is."
"Rosemary and lemon and butter. And I have that broccoli rabe you like from the farmer's market."