The Summum Bonum (Burning Man 6)

Billy sat cross legged at the edge of the vast ocean, behind him was empty desert, empty except for a scraggly bush here and there a few stumps of ancient trees. There were hardly any signs of life which left him puzzled. He was used to finding living things even in the harshest conditions. His Grand uncles had taught him how to survive even when it seemed like their was no sustenance the earth provided. Still he was not thirsty, nor was he hungry. Somehow the manna of the snake meat was keeping him alive or he was in a dream or maybe, he thought, he had crossed into the dreamtime. He began to hum to himself. The song lifted his spirit. The tune had no name. He closed his eyes and calmed his breathing into a rhythmic chant.

For a long time he sat. He finally heard a rustling sound. Startled he opened his eyes and scratched his neck where the snakeskin rested on his neck. Things were changing around him. A white rock had appeared out of the water. Inscribed into the rock was the same symbol that Eingana had scratched into the sand many days ago, the symbol for MU. The rustling noise continued as he stood and turned looking at the now swirling sand. Two inhuman figures suddenly emerged, growling and grunting, gnashing their sharpened teeth and threatening with clawlike hands. “Who are you?” Billy demanded. The creatures snarled and gave him a hideous grin. They spoke in a coarse rhyme. “We are brothers, your brothers, greed and gluttony. Turn and come with us to the paradise of the wasteland!”

Billy clutched at the gem around his neck. Neither creature would look at him directly. They seemed to be looking out into the ocean with far away eyes. “Hurry you fool. Come with us and rule the wasteland!” He reached out to them but they both shrunk back. They would come no closer to him. Something occurred to Billy. “I have no need of either of you, there is nothing here to be greedy for and nothing to eat to be gluttonous.” “Then just give us the gem and drown you foolish man” they demanded as their eyes widened still staring past him. Billy turned again.

The ocean had vanished into the sky. Everything was blue. The shape of a seated figure was far in the distance. An enormous seated figure holding up the shadow of a hand. Billy turned back and the figures had vanished. He heard them arguing. “He has passed our realm we can no longer affect him.” Things were changing. Billy heard a rushing sound like the blast of a mighty wind. He blinked as water hit his face. The horizon returned as quickly as it had vanished. The water surged in front of the white stone. Out of the sea a gigantic crocodile like dragon came rushing from the ocean.

Billy fell to his knees and clutched the opal carving. The dragon spoke in a voice that came from everywhere at once. “Billy Bondi has arrived, the earth is his witness and his heart. He holds the Cintimani.” Everything Billy had been through flashed before him. He saw mountains and he saw the abyss. “Who are you and what do you want?” he asked. “I am the Makara,” the voice boomed. “I want you Billy, you have the sign, you have been marked by the one.”

“There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.” — Salvador Dali

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” — Salvador Dali

Get off the cell phone and Drive! — Jake Shween

The Gulf (Burning Man 5)

Roy Gillespie stood on the oil rig platform listening to his iPod. Strains of the Santana song “Oye Como Va” played at full blast in his ear pods. He looked out over the serene Gulf waters as the incredible guitar of Carlos Santana danced alive in his head. He liked this job as an oil rig man. He felt needed, he felt necessary. The country needed the energy from the natural gas this well supplied. He had been with the company now for over seventeen years. Sure there had been mishaps but nothing that this experienced crew couldn’t handle. Nothing like the Deep Horizon disaster or anything even close had happened here. Now of course that was due to faulty cement or at least that’s what the Times Picayune had reported. He had little use for the newspaper or newspapers in general. It was hard to trust anyone these days. The people he trusted were the people he could see, his fellow roughnecks. He liked that name. He had gone from being a leatherneck in the Gulf war to being a roughneck in a different Gulf. This irony made him smile.

He wondered again if he might have been a musician if he had just a little more ambition. He still had several guitars he kept and played for fun from time to time. No matter now, he was a roughneck and damned proud of it. After his term of service in the marines, semper fi, he came back to work the rigs. He enjoyed being on his feet and the hands on physical labor. He took a deep breath. How much better this was than being in the Persian Gulf. He turned around.

The blast was like a sand bag of noise and force. He didn’t really hear it as much as he felt and saw it. Wham it hit him like a giant hand wielding a sock full of flour. He stumbled backward and hit the rail hard, over he went. His eyes were burning from the flash. Down he went. Probably a good thing. He hit the water but he couldn’t feel it yet. For a moment he lay limp in the sea. His mind stalled, it lay open like a question mark, the hesitation between the flash of lightning and the thunder when the storm was right overhead. He instinctively began to back paddle away from the huge rig supports. He felt the surreal sensation as the water flooded his jumpsuit. His iPod went out. He floated calmly. His military time had prepared him for this. It did not seem strange to him.

He started humming a tune, “Platform Fire” by Jack’s Mannequin. He kept swimming back and away from the pillars of flames and billowing black smoke. His senses were numb. The song continued in his mind, it gave him focus. He wondered how long he might be in the water as he floated and swam further from the structure. He was alone, no one else had fallen over! He did not take this as a good sign. When he looked back at the platform it blazed wildly. There was no sign of life.

Another world away steel blue eyes gazed out into the vast ocean. Billy thought he heard a boom off in the distance. He shielded his eyes and as he looked out on the horizon he thought for a moment he saw a flash, maybe a sign of other life. For a split second his hopes rose. When he looked again he guessed it was just sunlight gleaming on the water. He turned around and saw a stick of driftwood. He picked it up and in frustration hurled it as far as he could out into the surf. He sat down to think with his head in his hands.

Roy tread water. He had already removed his heavy boots. Now he undid his coverall and slipped it from his powerful frame. He was glad the waters were warm. With the loss of the added weight his job of staying afloat was much easier. He felt something against his back. Startled he took a quick breath. The song came back in his head. “Under pressure, but I’m feeling weightless, across the desert when you’re feeling faithless” he turned in the water. There was a log floating there that had come out of nowhere. He clutched at it thankfully. He knew he was going to make it.

“He doesn’t measure his wealth in private jets, but purchased souls.” — Frank Underwood in House of Cards

“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” — Former Vice President Dick Cheney

Get off the cell phone and Drive! — Jake Shween

Washington Oil (Burning Man 4)

Margaret brushed the hair from her eyes in front of a large vanity mirror. Silently she rehearsed her speech. She was a bit fidgety in spite of the fact that she had been the spokesperson for the oil and gas consortium for over six years now. This was the first time however, that the entire Washington D.C. crowd would be present. Senators and congressmen, industry leaders including several Arab princes even several representatives from the Russian oil conglomerate Lukoil. She was in the midst of the oil boys. The old oil boys club.

It’s okay she thought to herself as she applied a fresh coat of lip gloss. She was remarkably attractive and she knew it. She had relied on her looks before to smooth things out with the naysayers. Just tell them what they want to hear and everyone will applaud. It was all about the money anyway. Make it sound environmentally safe and emphasize the profit. Worked every time and if there was any doubt simply grease a few palms. When had the Environmental Protection Agency ever stepped in any way? It was the same old routine. The agency might balk, some phone calls would be made, then business as usual. Ah the beauty of capitalism in the good old U.S.A.

She straightened her drink on the antique foyer table. The wood was reddish and quite old. Probably mahogany she remarked to herself, this place spares no expense. She looked in the mirror again and marveled at the seascape hanging on the wall behind her in the wide hallway. It captured her gaze for a moment and took her imagination away. The picture showed a wide beach on the one side that stretched as far as the eye could see, the other side was the ocean, with a dappling of clouds on the distant horizon.

She took a large swallow of the bourbon. Quite unladylike but it was just her in the hallway. Turning she walked up to the painting. It was a Jasper Cropsey. Probably worth a beamer at least. Back to the mirror, it was almost presentation time. She was waiting to hear her cue with a final glance at her baby blues. Wait a second! What was that? She had caught a flash in the corner of her eye. There it was again. She looked closely into the mirror which perfectly reflected the painting behind her. Right there on the distant beach something sparkled like a diamond. Was it the bourbon? Yet she knew it was something more. She turned and looked directly at the picture again. Suddenly it seemed dim and bleak.

Billy stood on the beach. It was early in the morning. He felt like he had been walking forever. He stopped for a moment and faced the ocean. He felt for the gem resting on his chest and held it up to the sunlight. It glistened brightly. He saw clouds in the distance. Clouds and blue. Blue eyes? No it couldn’t be. Just sky and forever. He held the gem and wanted to ask it a question. How much further would he have to travel alone?

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Get off the cell phone and Drive! — Jake Shween

The Laurentian Highway (Burning Man 3)

Eddie Sargavy twirled the pen in his fingers. The room smelled of long extinguished cigarettes. He stared out the window at the Laurentian Highway. In the distance a sign flashed on the side of the Continental Can Company. Cee Cee Cee over and over again. One large Cee, one medium size cee that fit into the large arc and a smaller cee to complete the trio. He chuckled to himself, a frustrated chuckle. “See, see, see it says and how come I can’t come up with a damn thing” he said to himself. “Damn irony.”

Eddie had been up half the night. He was trying to come up with a concept for a new client. Mindlessly his hand sketched out a human shape on his scratch paper. He had to have something by morning. Lazily the lonely cars in the distance seemed to drone up the road, the noise eerily reminiscent of waves on a beach.

This was unusual for Eddie. He was the creative force of the advertising agency. Normally things would just come into his mind as if the muse never rested. Tonight was different though. The air felt heavy. It was October in Montreal and the air still felt like summer. The day had been unusually warm, 86 degrees, a new record. He had left the café early after meeting again with the client for what was supposed to be a mutual round of drinks. Walter Blytheville downed his Labatt beers hungrily like a man on a mission. That was now ten hours ago. Eddie imagined him sleeping peacefully. Why was this campaign so difficult? He had never had troubles with moral issues before. He simply could no longer wrap his mind around selling something that could be harmful to the environment or to people.

He looked down again at his scratch pad. There was a rough outline of a figure lying down. He scrawled a bit and drew the outline of a beach. A truck roared by in the distance. He drew some curls on the water, the impressions of waves, small waves. He stood up to stretch. His laptop continued it’s eternal screensaver waltz. It reminded him of a video game he played as a child. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a toothpick. What he really wanted was a cigarette. He turned and looked at the clock radio on the bedstand. 4:13 AM. He was supposed to make a presentation at ten. His flight back to New York was at two. He was in a bind, a dead zone, he needed a way out of his creative rut. He needed a way to numb his conscience.

It occurred to Eddie how small he really felt, that did it. He reached into his suitcase and retrieved a pack of camel cigarettes. He threw the door open to the motel room, the classic Mirabel Express. He could’ve stayed anywhere on the agencies tab but he loved the rustic little cheesy places.  Something about reminding himself where he had come from and how far he had come. Several drags into his cigarette he decided he was over his moral crisis. “We’re all gonna die sooner or later so who the hell really gives a damn? Who am I, the pope?” He quietly closed the door and extinguished the stub in a Styrofoam cup. He walked back over to the desk and tapped the keyboard of the laptop. “Wake up little prince” he said trying to humor himself awake. It was then that he looked at his scratchpad. His mouth fell open. He shook his head and patted his cheeks. The figure he had drawn was no longer there……..

Billy was not sure how long he had slept on the sand. He had awoken in the night. It felt like something was brushing against his skin. More than once he felt it but each time he saw nothing. Just a vast expanse of stars overhead. Not a crab, a night bird or even a sea flea in sight. The ocean was calm. The waves made a gentle rumble that sounded far away. Billy was thirsty now and he knew it was time to go further. He felt for the pendant around his neck. He held it to his chest, the feel of it was comforting. He stood easily and with the ocean on his right, Billy walked on.

“I shall be found with ‘Indians’ engraved on my brain when I am dead. A fire has been kindled within me, which will never go out.” — Helen Hunt Jackson

Get off the cell phone and Drive! — Jake Shween