One

By Rich Ferguson

Poem

Be one with the world. One with yourself. One with the tranquility gallery behind your eyes, its humble paintings of peace & prosperity. One with how that gallery is so often under reconstruction, deconstruction. One with how everything is so impermanent, so fleeting. How your every thought breeds Frankensteins & angels. Be one with all your Frankensteins & angels.

I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:



















This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.

Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).

And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:








Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.

Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:







But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:








Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)

Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.


Does anyone worry about the Seven Deadly Sins anymore?

I don’t mean the machinations of the lunatic featured in Se7en, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman…

…or the Seven Deadly Sins computer game (Partial description from the Kongregate website: “Enter the quiet English town of Gorpsdale and use your skill, guile and ingenuity to find suitable ways of breaking each sin” — suitable?)…

…or the rock group Seven Deadly Sins…

…or songs of the same name by the Traveling Wilburys, Flogging Molly, Lotte Lenya or a dozen groups you never heard of.

No.  I don’t mean a trivial expression dripping with convenient irony — intended or otherwise.  The Seven Deadly sins — ha ha.  They’ll send you You Know Where — wink wink.
No no.  I mean the real deal, the Cardinal Sins — those one-way tickets for the express train to that station with the warning over the door.  You know, the sign about all who enter abandoning hope?  That one.  And, while we’re on the subject, that creak you hear in the tunnel ain’t coming from the train.

I’m talking about THE Seven Deadly Sins, defined seven hundred years or so ago as:

  1. Luxuria (Extravagance)
  2. Gula (Gluttony)
  3. Avaritia (Avarice)
  4. Acedia (Discouragement)
  5. Ira (Anger)
  6. Invidia (Envy)
  7. Superbia (Pride)

Do any of these sound familiar?  Ah, so you’ve dabbled in them, have you?  Not to worry, just an oversight.  You’ll clear it up right away.

Perhaps you’re now recalling that time you came home two hours past curfew and were so stoned you left the car running out front all night — and mom gave you a chance to explain before dad came home from work.  No, friend.  That’s Judgment Day you’re thinking of, where righteous pagans and the like get to explain that it’s not their fault they didn’t pray to Jesus, since He hadn’t yet lived, and the angel says, “You’ve suffered enough.  Next!”

The Deadly Sins are not that.  Put yourself in the attitude of Deadly Sin and die before repenting and you already got your Judgment Day, honey.  That E ain’t for Effort, it’s for Eternity.

Is it getting hot in here?

From the Union of Concerned Scientists website:  “Earth’s surface has undergone unprecedented warming over the last century, particularly over the last two decades. Astonishingly, every single year since 1992 is in the current list of the 20 warmest years on record.”

Now that I have your attention, please notice something about these Deadly Sins.  Murder is not among them.  Why?  Because these aren’t an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments, baby.  They’re not things you do so much as the way you do them.  They’re not mere acts.  They’re what you are — yourbeing.

For example, your very existence in modern America creates oceans of waste.  In an article in Mother Jonesmagazine, Bill McKibben notes that we dispose of 80 million water bottles every day.  Recycled, you say? At any given moment, “More than 46,000 pieces of plastic debris float on each square mile of ocean.”

McKibben also notes the 426,000 cell phones we toss every day, the 170,000 Energizer batteries born every fifteen minutes, and the 60,000 plastic bags we use every five seconds.  Most of this stuff doesn’t float on the oceans.  We send it out of sight, underground.

Which brings me to Dante Alighieri.

In The Divine Comedy, according to scholars, Dante depicted the eschatological views of Thirteenth Century clerics.  And, with literacy on the rise, he did so in the common tongue, so everyone could understand.  In other words, he was just a really talented reporter about the state-of-the-afterlife art.

But what if it turns out the scholars who claim this are whistling past the graveyard?  What if Dante is less a recorder of our past and more a man with a vision of our future?  Kinda like Nostradamus with a mean streak.  Well, then, we’re on the moving sidewalk to the wrong terminal, folks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists adds:  “In its 2001 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, ‘There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.’”

Dare we revisit those Seven — you know:

  1. Extravagance: According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average American house grew from 1400 square feet in 1970 to 2330 square feet in 2004.
  2. Gluttony: Look in the mirror.  See that fat man?  To satiate him, there’s a building in Arkansas stuffed with ten thousand living chicken dinners.
  3. Avarice: The one who dies with the most toys wins, right?
  4. Discouragement: We know this drill.  Say it with your arms raised: What difference can little old me make in this vast world?  And, besides, isn’t global warming a myth perpetrated by people who just get off on caring about others?
  5. Anger: I have my rights, man, lay off me!
  6. Envy: I know, you needed to take the Suburban to pick up the flat-screen television that was three inches bigger than your neighbor’s, even though your old TV was new last year.  The world feels your pain.
  7. Pride: Mankind is Numero Uno, no?

So this gets me thinking: What if hell isn’t a place we’re sent to, but rather a condition that comes to find us?

Another infernal observation from the scientists: “Measurements show that global average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, with most of that happening in the last three decades.”

Dante envisioned nine Circles of Hell:

  1. Those in Limbo wallow in the misery of their separation from God.  A thought: Mankind today has never been further from Nature.
  2. Those in the Second Circle of Hell are blown about by violent storms without rest.  Global warming means more energy in Earth’s atmosphere, causing more storms.
  3. In the Third Circle of Hell, expect to slosh endlessly through vile black sludge — as when the retention ponds at the pig farms let loose.
  4. Those in the Fourth Circle of Hell push around boulders — as we will have to do increasingly to hold back the tides.
  5. In the Fifth Circle of Hell, the souls gnash at each other endlessly — as in the unproductive partisanship that accompanies our era.
  6. For the Sixth Circle of Hell, the heat arrives in earnest.  From the scientists one more time: “By the end of the century, the average U.S. temperature is projected to increase by approximately 7 to 11ºF under the higher emissions scenarios and by approximately 4 to 6.5ºF under the lower emissions scenario.”
  7. The Seventh Circle of Hell contains flaming sand, boiling blood, men reduced to dried bushes, and ferocious dogs (that I see as Nature’s avengers).  But, hey, there’s no snow to plow.
  8. Eighth Circle: people immersed in excrement, more heat, nefarious disease, boiling pitch, that sort of thing.  Does it get tedious?  Only because it isn’t you suffering — yet.
  9. The final Ninth Circle: very unfriendly ice.  “So you see,” the skeptics will say, “in the long run it cools.”  But, of course, by then we’re all beyond dead.

Speaking of which…

At the height of the Roman Empire, people lived on average just 25 years.  By 1985, worldwide life expectancy was 62 years.  Today, a child born in the United States can expect to walk the planet nearly 78 years.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, “The number of centenarians in the U.S. is growing rapidly…  During the 1990s, the ranks of centenarians nearly doubled…”  Analysts at the Census, they say, are projecting the population of American centenarians “possibly reaching 834,000 by the middle of the next century.”

But science works apace, and some believe that in a hundred years we may overcome senescence entirely.  Hmm.  It could be that we’re all going to Hell.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, remember the theory of a particular John Milton character in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”

Then again, those thoughts belonged to the biggest sinner of all, didn’t they?

After three hellish summers in Madrid, I decided to do something different.

I went back home.

Home is Phillipsburg; Ohio, a suburb of a suburb of Dayton, which is famous for the birthplace of aviation (the Wright brothers grew up here), the Dayton Peace Accords (Serb-Croat conflict) and Guided by Voices.