While Life Might Be Tough Right Now, Everything's Going To Be AlrightBy my senior year in college, I had learned a thing or two that a lot of my peers hadn't. For instance, when the entire perceivable world around you aligns itself into one big pulsing rhythm, the trees waving in synch with little girls skipping rope and all the dogs on the street start leaping like trained dancers, watch out--the land beyond is trying to tell you something.
In the time-span of one half of a footstep, just the time it took for my foot to leave the pavement, arc through the air and return, I saw something that would change my life forever.
I saw another world with inhabitants very like and very unlike humans, all at once. They looked just like people from the outside, but all had a long, thick and sensitive tendril sprouting from their solar plexus. This tendril made these beings more and less human than anything we on earth have got going.
Both muscular and highly sensitive, this appendage looked like nothing so much a giant tongue. A thin, odorless, colorless secretion covered these appendages, probably to conduct the mild electric current coursing through them. This electricity is not unlike the electric organ in a shark's spine that enables it to sense potential prey in distress from miles away. If you as an earth-born human were to shake hands with this tendril, you'd feel a slight electrical tingle, like sticking your tongue on a nine volt battery.
These tendrils communicated distress but also hope, fear, love and the deepest understanding of unity, peace and contentment. They did this when unfurled and laid over top of another tendril, joining two (or three or four) souls in this incredible communion that absolutely dwarfs anything the human orgasm has ever accomplished. As my foot cruised through the air in that tremendous footstep, I came to understand that caressing tendrils felt like one's first kiss, a good workout followed by a hot shower, a mother's hug, grandmother's cooking, smelling snow in the air and standing up on a surfboard for the first time. Touching tendrils with another being proved right down to one's very atoms that while life might be tough now, everything was going to be all right.
In the eyes of God, it was perfectly acceptable and even encouraged that all people would caress tendrils whenever they felt up to it. There were no taboos placed on it. Mothers could touch tendrils with their sons, priests and nuns could wrap tendrils and great big burly guys that did things like kill and lift heavy objects could totally commingle their souls and it didn't bother the creator of this universe one tiny bit.
God may have wanted people to commune souls all the time, but the people that ran that planet had other ideas. In fact, the only thing more illegal than having this appendage in the first place was using it for its intended purpose. The planet was run by a faux democracy whose primary stated goals were productivity, industry and Getting Ahead. Communing souls was demonized because it just wasn't productive and it kept people from being scared of being late, getting fired, or not Getting Ahead. There was a clinic in most strip malls where people could go in and get these things removed right after they dropped off their dry cleaning and before they went grocery shopping.
Some poor souls actually had their tendrils removed, but most did not. When you made an appointment, the doctor took you into a tiny room and just taught you how to bind this glorious organ up very tightly so that nobody could tell that you had one under your shirt, unless that shirt fit really tightly. One of the other ways this planet differed from Earth is that there were, luckily, no tight-fitting bicycle shirts.
Even though using a god-given organ for the greatest communion of all was illegal, everyone, from the president right down to the people that worked at the gas chamber used their organs. It was all a secret, and everyone was in denial, conflicted and confused and thought that tomorrow would be the day they gave in and straightened up and really started to Get Ahead.
As my foot started to cruise downward towards the pavement, I saw two men, old, close friends, get very drunk in a bar together, They reminisced about old times and talked about the present--their jobs, their kids, their wives. One of them got drunk enough that he started absently rubbing at the binding to his tendril. A thought blossomed in the others' mind..."maybe he's got one of these things still, too!"
After last call, the two were urinating together in the alleyway--the second-closest communion that heterosexual men could have on this planet--when they decided to just go for it and commune right there, behind the dumpster. Right as they saw each other's fragile unique beauty and simultaneous membership in the broad spectrum of life, snipers from a passing helicopter picked them off in an alleyway like a bored redneck shooting rats at the dump.
This story, while true, and a little too much like Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, is nevertheless copyright Jeff Simmermon and if I see any derivatives of it out there, I will be seeing your sorry asses in court. You want a wild tale of the land beyond, you figure out a way to travel there your damned self.
I painted a representation of this experience for my one of my senior projects while completeing my art major that year. It was done in black and white enamela and whitewash on a large section of decaying backyard fence, the entire story hand-lettered along the side. Here's a photo of part of the painting:
This painting and one very similar hung side-by-side in a bar here in D.C. called the Common Share for several years. Hundreds of bicyclists and politically ambitious young drunks partied next to this thing for years. Then the bar changed ownership a few times and I left the country. Now the piece has vanished, and I have no idea where to find it.
If you have seen this in a friend's garage or basement, or even been at a party where this is hanging on the wall, please get in touch with me. I would love to see my old artwork again. It pleases me to no end that possibly thousands of strangers have sauced themselves up pretty heavily right nest to my hand-lettered true tale of a land beyond earth, and it is my sincerest hope that through the course of steady seeping osmosis this painting inspired these people to come a little closer than they would have and really rub souls, letting each other know that if not right this second, everything was going to be okay and no government could get in the way of that.