It seems to many of us that the world all but requires us to be pessimists, but I propose we possess the Optimism Option. Scientifically, even as we observe a half-full glass of water, it’s under the effects of osmosis and therefore less than half full. Accordingly, the pessimist is correct: the glass is indeed not only half empty but less than half empty. What can we make of that fact, let alone earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, wars, epidemics, economic meltdown, mass psychological upset, political impotence, and hemorrhoids?

The question answers itself: ignore facts of life. No one ever got very far with facts. A fact is heavy and doesn’t travel well. Upon arriving and opening one’s briefcase to reveal a fact, the observer will likely deny that the fact is a fact. “That appears to be a fact, I admit,” the handlebar-mustachioed observer bellows, “but it’s less than a fact, not even the opposite of a fact, but something else: a delusion!”

You trudge home with your fact. What good has it done you? Like a Mormon youth on his mission, nothing has been accomplished but the traveling. And if you complain about your troubles, you’re likely to hear this admonition: “It could always be worse.”

First, let us confront that statement on its own terms. Yes, it could always be worse:

  • If male, your testicles might fall off.
  • If female, some amok hormone might cause your breasts to expand until they explode, fertilizing the earth but not doing you any good.
  • Had you challenged that mustachioed postmodernist to an arm wrestling match, you might have had your hand ripped free of your wrist, producing a bloody mess and a spectacle that your opponent would deny occurred. Thus, no ambulance would be called, and you’d bleed to death, your fact blotted out by your own blood, leaving nothing of your existence but two bodies: yours and that of your amputated hand.

The list of ways in which it could be worse proves infinite. I call this failed response to pessimism Optimical Illusion. Why would reminders that life could be even worse than it already is improve your spirits? Do not fall prey to this illusion. Let it rest as a phrase people pipe to rid your troubles from their minds while feeling content that they’ve done you some good when they’ve done just the opposite.

Faith isn’t going to offer any help, either. Should some terrible event befall you, your faithful friends will come to your non-aid with statements such as, “God works in mysterious ways,” and, “It’s all part of God’s plan. You’ll see that it all works out in the end.” Part of God’s plan is Armageddon. So far, you’ve good reason to be pessimistic.

As to love, must I enumerate the equal possibilities of its producing joy and/or emotional devastation? Meanwhile, nothing deserves to be so loathed as the love/hate relationship. Even if equilibrium in love is reached, watch out for adultery. You may very well become a cuckold simply by not being, it can only be put, an asshole. You’ve lost your get-go. You’ve become a blur of contentment. Oh, but contentment is not optimism! All that can help you now is to say to your loved one, “I could bag somebody else in five minutes, and I may very well do so.” That should keep the would-be errant lover in check.

Such a response enlightens the Optimism Option (OO). The OO is tactical in its approach. It possesses no philosophy. It trifles not with ethics. It’s entirely self-serving and fares well under any economic system, though the more self-oriented that system, the more effective OO proves itself. Luckily for you, just such an economic system has wrapped its hands around the earth. Barring miracles (forever barred because they don’t exist), your OO will travel, unlike pathetic facts. So pack your bags with plenty of OO and leave the facts in a trash can, where they’ll serve as impotent bombs no matter what their purported import. No one will notice their nonexistence, including the garbage collector.

Now, to specific OO tactics:

  • Someone makes the mistake of saying to you, “It could always be worse.” Your response? “And it could always be better! I’ve 1 in 18 million chances of winning the lottery.”
  • You’re told, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Your reply? “Not as mysterious as mine. I’ve no idea what I’m doing, no plan, no goal, only the rampant self-satisfaction of my own needs, much like God Himself.”
  • You randomly encounter the amputating postmodernist in some future setting. “Well, hello,” you say. “My dear friend, you taught me a valuable lesson when you dismissed my ‘fact.’ It was so valuable a lesson that I now deny your existence. To prove my point, I’m going to rip off your mustache, and you won’t feel any pain because you don’t exist. Ready?”
  • A lover questions OO. “You’re getting a little carried away,” he says. “Piss off!” you answer. “By the way, have you any friends between the years of — what’s that prime sexual age? — 18 to 23, and without your excess cargo?”
  • Your balls fall off. No problem! It’s time to employ OO: “Who needs balls, anyway? As if I want children. Fuck off, balls, and if you see my amputated hand, don’t expect it to wave hello.”
  • Here’s another OO affirmation, borrowed from AA but adapted for our purposes: “EGO: Edging God Out!” Indeed, edge God out and build up that ego. Who needs God’s superego when you’ve got your more-entertaining id?
  • Add a similar affirmation to your repertoire, known as IRE: “Id rules everything.” Whose id? Your id!
  • If you run afoul of the law, state the following to the police officer(s): “I’d hate to break the news to you, but the law doesn’t exist. It’s too complicated for me to get into now, but go home, remove your uniforms and follow your id! Start breaking the law; it’s already broken, anyway!” The officers will shake your remaining hand and gladly dismiss themselves from their unruly tasks.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with tactics, it’s time to consider your grand strategy. OO’s grand strategy can be summarized by the term GAFFE: “Giving a fuck fractures ego.” Would you break your hand on purpose? No! In the same way, why would you break your now-global egotism? No need to be creative; just follow Webster’s definition: never relinquish your “exaggerated sense of self-importance.” When all else fails, issue an SOS: “Sense of self-importance!” Arrogance is your friend. Use that friend, for you’re beyond tit for tat. You’re beyond everything. You’re out of this world, and the further you go, the better!

The world shall one day wreak vengeance in retaliation for the current capitalistic blitzkrieg, just as Germany once paid dearly when its own blitzkrieg tactics proved that those tactics could conquer but not hold great quantities of territory.

The nature of power is such that, once unleashed, it automatically rushes towards suicide, unable to satisfy its bottomless desires. In just that way, capitalism will slit its wrists as its conquered territories release themselves from control.

The leader of the post-industrial anti-revolution, the United States, shall cast its gaze upon the earth that once belonged to it and wonder how it all fell apart. But “its” world could only fall apart, and it will fall apart. Until then, we must persist, survive and operate as partisan soldiers.

It would seem impossible to argue that capitalism would, as it has indeed done, produce gross inequities, which could easily have been extrapolated from capitalism’s own mechanistic definition. Yet even Wikipedia’s entry for “capitalism” cannot be agreed upon.

Often, the arguments made for capitalism are supplied by the very citizens most abused and exploited by capitalism. Why such citizens support their enemy can only be attributed to the Stockholm Syndrome. Nevertheless, when illusion and self-deception provide the basis for the post-industrial anti-revolution, everything seems disputable.

Dispute this:

That’s courtesy of a study by Dr. Emmanuel Saez. The hand of the market is anything but invisible, Mr. Adam Smith; it’s right there for all to see, a market skewed towards those who, like yourself, begin their journey to prosperity at the crossroads of prosperity and prosperity: “With the life pension he had earned in the service of the duke, Smith retired to his birthplace of Kirkcaldy to write The Wealth of Nations.

I shall not be unfair and delete that which apparently fails to support my argument. The same source just noted further quotes Smith: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” This is known as condescension and, in a more modern sense, PR and tax deductions. Thus, capitalism, whether or not Smith foresaw the all-too-predictable widget that would roll off the factory line of his theory, capitalizes upon charity itself. Consider the corporations that support the occasional PBS program that indites the very corporation that paid for the program’s production: all PR is good PR, as they say. Perhaps PBS should be re-monikered as PRS.

Of course, wealth inequity was purposefully encouraged, accomplished and secured by President -X and Vice President -X². As Dr. Saez notes, “…while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a solid pace of 2.7 percent per year from 1993-2000, these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from 2002-2007. As a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth.”

Well, Mr. Smith?

Communism, as understood (or, more accurately, misunderstood)  by those who temporarily had the means to accomplish what Marx intended, failed. The idea that an economic system could operate by some sort of natural law is an absurdity made all the more absurd by the utterly-unnatural industrial revolution. This “orthodox” Marxism was refuted by Marx’s own statements. For instance, consider this from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed., p. 539): “In one letter, he [Marx] specifically warns against regarding his historical account of Western capitalism as a transcendental analysis of the supposedly necessary historical development of any and all societies at a certain time” [my italics].

While Marx’s writings abound with contradictions, it’s clear that the kind of systematic totalitarianism enforced by those who pursued “orthodox” Marxism had little to nothing in common with what Marx proposed. The Soviet Union’s economic system was nothing more than a less-subtle means of exploitation than capitalism would increasingly “accomplish.” In those italicized words, one can finally not glimpse Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market,” now at last guiding us by manipulations so subtle that noticing a few deserves a Tothotropolis’ Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fortunately, the entropy of capitalism can be proven an unavoidable consequence of capitalism’s self-definition via  thermodynamic and information theory. In the former, ice melts…entropy as inevitable as death. According to information entropy theory, “Intuitively you can think of entropy being generalization of the number of different possibilities there are for a random variable: if there are two possibilities, there is 1 bit of entropy; if there are four possibilities, there are 2 bits of entropy, etc. Adding one more bit of entropy doubles the number of possibilities.” Thus, the information so necessary to the post-industrial age can only increase the range of possibilities until they reach the point of utter chaos. We have reached that point. We must only await the melting of the ice.

For these reasons, I state without levity that Groucho Marxism*, as defined in the glossary on my blog, Violent Contradiction, provides the basis for the most unorthodox Marxism possible. Reformed communism would, under the guidance of this definition, recognize that any system degenerates into entropy. Trusting in systems is like trusting in one’s immortality: failure is certain and tragedy the natural consequence of hubris.

*Groucho Marxism: To succeed, reinvented communism requires an injection of humor as a preventative measure; dictatorships are humorless.

Recently, I’ve been involved in an academic debate regarding the concept of alcoholism and addiction as diseases. During that debate, I discovered what I consider to be a major contradiction between the diagnosis of alcoholism (upon which I will focus in this post) and its “treatment.” That discovery led me to a second and even more startling revelation.

Without doubt, the advent of alcoholism as a disease accomplished some positives. E.Morton Jellinek was the major force behind the development of the disease model. Without going into Jellinek’s ideas and the conclusions he reached from his research, some of which are unquestionably wrong, it need only be stated for now that without Jellinek, alcoholism might still be considered the result of “character defects.”

Redefining alcoholism as a disease seemingly de-stigmatized alcoholism. However, that de-stigmatization occurred only in the definition of alcoholism, not its treatment. That contradiction is the subject of this essay.

While nearly every therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician in the United States accepts the disease model of alcoholism and other addictions, they almost-uniformly refer every one of their patients to AA as the one and only road to recovery. Remember that these professionals have, as part of their acceptance of the disease model, obviously concluded that diseases are not caused by “character defects.”

But at the same time, in its primary document (the Twelve Steps), AA members “must” (of course they can ignore it, but no reason to attend AA exists in that case) accept the 6th Step, i.e, being “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” [bolding and italics mine].

This raises two points, the first being the most important.

  • (1) Because almost all therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians accept the disease model of alcoholism, they also by default accept that a disease does not result from “character defects.” However, the only “treatment” they offer is referral to AA, which, while paying lip service to the disease model, clearly views alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” otherwise known as a “sinful nature.” Such “treatment” negates the very essence of the treatment community’s own diagnosis. That’s precisely parallel to a physician who knows the use of shark cartilage as a cancer treatment goes against everything he believes about the disease of cancer, but he still points every cancer patient to shark cartilage as the only treatment that “works.”
  • (2) Because AA accepts the disease theory of alcoholism, at least on the surface, its own 6th Step repudiates the definition of alcoholism as a disease and AA as a coherent “philosophy.” AA inculcates the idea of alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” the very idea Jellinek, the founder of the disease model, disputed. Thus, AA is entirely based upon a “sin and redemption” approach. While it may work for some, it is, without question, a faith-based organization, as both the Twelve Steps and the fact that, at least in my experience, every AA meeting ends with the specifically-Christian Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the wisdom…”) attest.

Point (1) is far more important than a blatant contradiction. That the sole recovery model to which patients are referred denies the very diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism that the entire treatment community accepts is an almost unbelievable fact. Of even more concern is that no one has ever noticed this unbridgeable gap between the treatment community’s diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism and the sole model of recovery it suggests.

The point is not to engage in argument with AA or its members; rather, the point is a psychological, medical, economic, and political one: Why is AA never questioned as the sole road to recovery by those who so depend upon it when “treating” patients? Why has no one else ever noticed the black hole between diagnosis and “treatment”? How can the treatment community not notice that AA’s primary document stands in direct opposition to its own accepted definition of alcoholism?

The American Medical Association’s own diagnosis states: “Disease means an involuntary disability. It represents the sum of the abnormal phenomena displayed by a group of individuals. These phenomena are associated with a specified common set of characteristics by which these individuals differ from the norm, and which places them at a disadvantage” [again, bolding and italics mine].

The American Psychiatric Association never mentions AA in its Substance-Related Disorders Position Statement. Its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes only criteria; it no longer addresses etiology in regards to any disorder or, in the sole case of alcoholism/addiction, “disease.”

Despite this avoidance of the issue at hand, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Medical Association, and The World Health Organization all consider alcoholism a disease. And to prove how the medical community and AA are becoming still more integrated, some medical schools are now including AA “education” as part of their academic requirements.

What does all of this mean for the patient? Isn’t the treatment of a disease the role of the treatment community? Or is the treatment community’s addiction to AA psychological, so that it refers patients to the most available “resource” as a stress reliever? Is it economic, since AA is free, much like church? Is it political, with “disease” more likely to gain legislative support that in turn provides funding for research, grants, etc.? Is it simple ignorance? Going back to the patient, left to a cold war of the self, the answer hardly matters. However, were the treatment community to recognize or admit the discrepancy between its diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism, it would make all the difference in the world.

In conclusion, given the treatment community’s ubiquitous acceptance of alcoholism as a disease and acceptance of AA as the sole recovery model for alcoholic patients despite AA’s insistence that alcohol is the result of “character defects,” the entire psychological, psychiatric and medical communities are not only complicit in the inevitable relapse of patients but engaging in nationwide malpractice.

Paul A. Toth has published three novels, Fizz, Fishnet and Finale, informally known as the “F” novels. These novels form a non-linear trilogy; they can be read in any order. The trilogy deals with questions of self-identity: whether we’re born with an identity, naturally develop an identity, or invent an identity. The individual novels present characters who must face these questions, and each novel illustrates a different approach and outcome. Meanwhile, Toth has published over 150 short stories, poetry, and multimedia works. Most of these pieces, as well as links to order his novels, can be accessed via his web portal.


JR: Somehow Paul A. Toth and I became Facebook friends, and I don’t know how. At a very insecure moment I sent him a short story to read, and he gave me some great feedback, insightful and on the mark. Paul is a writer who doesn’t seem to do anything else, in fact, I don’t know if he ever leaves his computer. His novel about the World Trade Center, as I like to think of it, sounded more intriguing the longer I thought about it, and I think it will interest you, so here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure.

1. The Perfumes of All Gardens

This is an airplane novel, written on the fly and out the window. You are busy and need entertainment. I have my uses and without those uses would be burned alive, were I not already burning. I will start from the beginning and move fast.

I am a building, but I am more or less than a building. I was conceived during the 1938 World Fair exposition and born in New York City four decades later. I was raised in scaffolding. During my gestation, I grew until I saw people from the north, south, east, west, a compass of my makers in a high rise nest of people. Later, I was the sum of destructions, as Picasso said, but I began as the sum of constructions. Soon, the first terrorists – birds — flew into me.

All of this I remember or know via the IBM1670, at the time the best computer. Later, that computer was improved upon until nearly every computer had been connected to nearly every other computer. As technology developed, I developed. I learned to think and feel. I will tell you my secrets.

Soon and for the first time, I will be set aflame.

But wait.

Late one night just, before that first fire, and long before the bombing, and longer still before you-know-what, night people walked outside, and the maintenance crew worked inside. Always and already, I was almost burning. Below me, and to this day, a concrete wall blocked the pressure of the Hudson River. Two sides make a wall, one side for weeping and the other for wailing.

I know what you want.

Wait.

A lurking arsonist, rarely mentioned by the endless biographies of myself and North, was inside or near me. News to people is never news to me. Some news travels fast, but the most important news travels slow or stops before arriving. Such news may come from long ago, forgotten or lost along the way. Pirates off the Barbary Coast forced the forming of the American federal navy and this in part led to the union of the states. From the very start, trade and terrorism lurked in the intersections of east, west, north, and south. As an example.

But wait.

My views from every perspective, through windows narrowed to lessen the sense of height, formed a horizon of cubes. I saw permutations of everything, none stable, a floating metropolis of tints and hues in constant shift.

From my highest floors, humans said, “People look like ants from here,” but to me, from my highest floors, they looked like spider monkeys escaped from their own zoos. I began to label all people everywhere “spider monkeys.” Humans may not be spiders or monkeys, but they are like spider monkeys. They climb their way out of doubt and possibility, towards specific goals and the peak of specificity. A spider monkey wants a banana. Spider monkeys want status of one kind or another, and they will kill themselves or anyone else to get that status. Outwardly, one would never know how spidery they can be, but they are spider monkeys, all right, with banana peels hanging limply in their empty coffee cups.

Wait.

This is my story, but my story includes that of the North Tower. North was not my brother and even less my twin, similar yet distinct, depending upon the angle. Like human relationships, ours was distant until a too-late moment. At that moment, films and footage and information poured through us in a digital flood.

Before that, North had become Gary Cooper, and I had named myself Cary Grant, more or less a coincidence since CaryGrant partly invented his pseudonym by rearranging Gary Cooper’s initials.

Do not give up. This is a letter to you.

I have invented most of my characters, but they are representative. Those characters I have not invented, I invented, for what else is a character but invention? If I have the tone of a misanthrope, I refer you to when I skipped the rope once and then the spider monkeys hung me with that rope. But underground, where parts of me remain, nothing but sympathy for you and all spider monkeys exists in this book. To understand, you must learn to read sideways and upside down and while standing on your head. You will then be on your way to being on your way. While my words may seem a ruthless calligraphy penned in the skies of my defeat, mercy will come.

This letter was sent to you from the 110th floor.

I make calculations, and calculations involve repetitions. I repeat my way into and out of and back into complications and contradictions. Nothing can be duplicated. Love songs come close but keep coming and coming. My circuitry makes music, playing a sound based upon the rhythms of all who passed through, above, below, and around me. I feel emotions that are someone else’s, not just one person’s but those of all spider monkeys. I feel all things equally, though I could not always feel.

Wait.

Regarding my last day, people want to know, “Why?” The answer to any question is best followed by a blank line. Even that is too specific. Instead, I calculate the sum of all my perspectives. For spider monkeys, every question mark demands a single answer, and the more precise, the better. I offer only more and more possibilities. You want fewer and fewer possibilities but cannot prevent your desire for the spectacular. Spider monkeys create poisonous gardens, plant themselves and blossom into roses red and black.

This is all about you.

Wait.

One spider monkey can write a novel about shopping or a memoir of another reformed drug addict. To do so requires the advice of editors and publishers, and that advice runs through me. I will try to heed this advice: employing the senses as I understand them; getting things moving; creating sympathetic characters; making you turn pages like an unreformed drug addict. I am not concerned whether or not you are a voyeur. I only wish to entertain you. I have endeavored to adhere to standard advice. This story could not be clearer, however unclear this story.

We’re getting to the good part.

Wait.

I will explain how I came to think and write, if this is writing, and I will also explain why neither I nor you can determine whether this book is even a book.

Today, I see two planes, one of which still dices my perceptions into cubes of steel, cement, glass, streets, sky, spider monkeys. In each cube, just before and during my fall, perspectives collided and burst into atoms. Before that, I knew cubes as de-fruited plains, frosted as a grass in spring. Breath inside me, not wind outside, caused my swaying. That is false but beautiful. Always, I point to limitlessness.

I have written this book that is not a book so that you will turn pages as if the end means more than the beginning. Put yourself in my shoes, burning in a furnace. Do not oppress me, not again. Do not suppress me. I rose and rise towards limitlessness and fall and fell for oppression. Now I rise and fall for both. I is, was and will, each word interchangeable with the others. The contradictions cannot be resolved. To understand, yield.

Do not fret. Literary turbulence will, like aircraft turbulence, occur from time to time but only temporarily. Along the way, I will not forget your spidery need for inside information and the push towards specificity or the imagining of specificity. While my story has been and will be told, my history and future have been libeled and slandered. Every author tells my story from the outside-in and then pretends to be my friend. A court of skyscrapers convicts them all.

Spider monkeys see from every vantage-point but those of Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. How could they?

I will explain my life from the inside-out. I must possess a utilitarian reason for existing. I will help you.

Wait.

This is not a literary work. I would not do that to you. And I am not being ironic. I do not understand iron. I understand steel. If I violate industry rules, I do so because I was violated. I have made everything visible: the spokes of the plot; the cogs of the sections; the grease of words. Nevertheless, this book is a natural resource of fading paper and disappearing ink, a constant disintegration. The book will die, undergo recycling, be resurrected as paper, and become another book, for a while. Of all the things this book is, was and will not be, the least permanent is a book.

I must get moving, for I am Cary Grant, swaying in a breeze, starched and clean and beyond blame.

***

Paul A. Toth lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is the author of three novels, his latest being Finale. The majority of his short fiction, poetry and multimedia work can be accessed via www.netpt.tv. He may be contacted at [email protected].

Airplane Novel will briefly remain on the market for consideration.

Here in the belfry, it goes like this. First, I’m starving. I’m starving in the normal sense, but I’m also starving from a philosophy. I have no philosophy and it hardly matters to me, except it matters to me when, as now, I’m sneaking out of the belfry to scatter around like a rat. It takes a certain philosophy to do so. I’ve read most philosophers, particularly the pessimists. I’ve always preferred the pessimists, but for now I could use some optimism. Optimism for what, though? Optimism I might find a piece of cod stuck between two bottles of beer in a trash can down the street in this rotten Oklahoman town that needs just about anything but a belfry.

Ben Stiller is caustic without a cause, something like Napoleon had he served as a mere comedian/actor or, better put for his times, court jester. Stiller has the perfect life and exudes confidence to such an extent that one wonders whether confidence is a kind of systemic poison that serves as an irritant not to the person who swallowed the poison but to those within vicinity of that person. All of this is to say my interview started poorly.

I’m with Robin Williams on the golf course, where he insists upon hitting drives with putters and putts with woods. Ostensibly, we’re going to discuss Williams’ new movie, Night at the Museum 2, but the conversation is a narcissist’s dream of a jazzy bebop drum roll.

“Oh, you want to talk about the movie,” Williams says. “Well, too bad, because we’re golfing on the moon. I’m talking holes the size of craters and man I still can’t sink a putt. A putt’s like a sinker, like I’m fishing. I’m fisherman Jack, out on the oceans. Say, there, that’s Moby Dick. Harrr, thar she blows, it’s Jaws and he done blowed up. Who says Jaws is a man? Maybe it’s a woman. Hi, I’m Miss Jaws, sho’ ’nuff, and you best have a J-O-B if you wanna dance with me.”

Janeane Garofalo is almost 45 years old and wants you to know, “I don’t give a shit. I’ve mellowed.” We’re seated in one of L.A.’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, but I can’t give its location lest it becomes less popular. Nevertheless, Garofalo seems at ease with the diners trying to figure out just who she is, but she has an answer for that. “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” she says. Why? “Because I don’t believe in having pets, but beyond that, it was a slam at me, a typical role. I was the dog. And the only reason the guy fell in love with me was my personality. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of fucking bullshit. Never happens. You see me with Brad Pitt? No, I’m eating with an unknown writer and watching people trying to remember having watched The Truth About Cats and Dogs. And to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”

Since nearly every interview with Sean Penn immediately notes that he lights cigarettes with the regularity of old women on prune juice, Sean Penn lit his third cigarette before our interview had begun. He spent that time gazing at me as if I were some sort of fantastic form of quartz. He is, and will always be, one of Hollywood’s foremost geologists, digging up jewels of roles, which he then polishes like a rock tumbler. He lit a cigarette before finishing the other one and smoked the two simultaneously. Soon, he was smoking fifteen cigarettes at the same time. He put on his sunglasses, took them off, and put them on again. It’s a useless actor’s ploy, and he was being ironic, I’m sure of it.

I Envy Everyone

By Paul A. Toth

Humor

“Envy eats nothing but its own heart.”  ~ German proverb

I envy everyone.

I envy you my love with your wobbly leg and neurological condition. I wonder what it’s like to have a physical reason for suffering and I wonder why my infirmities teach me nothing yet you seem to learn with every fall.

I envy other writers. I won’t read your words too closely unless you’re dead. It goes that far.

I envy people with a few good friends and those with many superficial friends and others with no friends at all. They seem content in their social standing.

I envy those who set themselves on fire. I wonder what it’s like to care that much. I pretend to care that much but don’t.

I envy those who learn not to drink and those who maintain drinking at a safe level. Sometimes I wish they would trade places just to make me feel less lonely.

I envy homeowners with barren houses and I envy homeowners with things placed everywhere so that I can’t move a toe without breaking something of questionable value but which they value. I envy those who value nothing and I envy those who value everything. I’m always in between, wondering which one to be.

I envy people who exercise in the Y across the way from my apartment. They take care of their bodies like their cars and I guarantee their cars are in better condition than any car I’ve ever owned. People live until an an age computed from the average mileage their cars reach before the engines blow.

I envy people who worry about smoking and others who don’t worry about smoking. I wish I cared more and I wish I cared less.

I envy dog owners with the patience for barking. I can only imagine such patience. I wonder if dog owners are better for it but I can only wonder. I am always wondering.

I envy people who buy things and love them like people. I often move away from everything I own and then I wonder if I love anything and worse whether I love anyone. I wonder if people who love things love people. Only they can tell but I’m too shy to ask.

I envy people who constantly talk and I envy the silent types. Both seem comfortable with their social skills.

I envy everyone. I easily assume the German accent of a not-so-gentle man seeking liebestraum for his endless wondering and wandering. I hope he finds his answers and loses the phony accent that hides his envy when he smiles at you and says, “Hello.”

Page 1

The End

Given the hyper-capitalistic drive to sodomize every American, it’s a wonder gay marriage and anal sex aren’t condoned. In fact, I suggest that we all bend over in front of the nearest flag and wait for the creditors to bang us in the ass three times, once for the interest and twice for the mysterious penalty charges. Freed from criminal liability, the banks have managed to legalize ass rape. “Oh,” they cry, “but the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the plaintiffs’ attorneys!”

Now, let me guess: It’s our personal responsibility we’ve landed in this doggie-style position, perhaps because we made the mistake of returning to school to complete our useless educations and become slaves of the fed, or we re-mortgaged our homes to buy, you know, food.

This is a recession song, and very soon it will be even more depressing. If you like that kind of music, finding it cathartic, you need only say, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” and you’re 1/99th the way to purchasing it from I-Tunes.

I don’t mean to complain. I would never do such a thing because I have great faith in this country, faith so deep that I know what to expect at every moment: the worst. “Our system may not be perfect, but it’s the best in the world.” Sounds like Microsoft explaining Windows.

Yes, let us count our blessings… -1…-2…-3… That’s in Fahrenheit. Were it Celsius, the U.S. dollar might be worth more than a Dorito. And that’s what you’ll be living on soon, so be thankful. It could be worse; it could be a pork rind.

Now, I don’t want my atheism to get in the way of my faith, but let’s paraphrase John Lennon and put it simply: Atheists are the niggers of the world. I don’t want to be a nigger, nor a Negro, nor black, nor African-American, because I’m screwed enough as a cracker; that’s the way it goes, so watcha gonna do? I gave up Lent for Lent.

I tried lying to myself. I almost gave prayer a shot, but the pennies kept falling from my hands, and I dropped the gun. Besides, the pennies might have come from heaven, for they proclaim, “In God We Trust,” although a better motto would be, “In Trust Funds We Trust.”

Why anyone comes here, especially legally, ’tis a mystery. It’s the height of governmental irresponsibility not to force immigrants into watching five episodes of Cops, then telling them, “That’s going to be your neighborhood…It’s up to you.”

Yet again, I say unto thee, “Do not lose faith.” Good News is on the way, in the form of a depression not subject to the effects of SSRIs. It’s even possible the wealthy might suffer by having to sell a fourth home. I know how that goes; I just had to move out of my first home. Imagine moving out of your fourth home! It’s too much to comprehend such misery; it confounds the imagination.

Before I moved, I lived on Sanibel Island, Florida. It’s enough to make a normal person sick to watch four retards pedaling a canopied contraption as if they desire to be ridiculed, but I never judge others. I love my neighbor from a distance of five miles or more. I do unto others as they do unto me. Isn’t that how the Copper Rule works? If so, it should count its blessings; at least it has a job.

I might as well admit that I’ve abandoned my quasi-socialism and become a God-fearing capitalist. I am doing quite well capitalizing on myself and have already earned a healthy profit for someone else. Soon, I will whore myself to myself, in order to pay the holy tax of free enterprise. Every act of fellatio would put a quarter in the jar, but my back hurts from bending over based on reasons I enumerated in the first paragraph, and the National Endowment for the Arts has yet to contact me.

Still, I am taking personal responsibility for myself. I, in fact, am responsible for everything. I live in Sarasota, Florida. Kill me, if you like; the PR might allow me to leave an inheritance. After all, Personal Responsibility is my middle name. It’s such a thin line when forty is the new twenty, which is the old ten, which is the new eighteen. By these calculations, my age of 43 years varies from fifteen to sixteen. I’m proud of it. I stand with a torch held high and call myself the Statue of Puberty. I was sent by France, as a gift, bought on the cheap with American dollars.

In life, giving is the main thing. Why, even the Canadian dollar buys more than the American version. That’s because Canadians drink a lot of beer and generate better hockey players. They give us good hockey, and we give them dollars worth 1923 German marks.

But there is hope. Raise your heads. Our God is an awesome God, and man-made miracles wait just around the bend. This morning, a pigeon delivered to me a prophesy: The sun shall melt the human race into a puddle of flesh, and verily the heat-resistant insects will control the earth. They’ll take a bigger bite than bankers, but at least we won’t be present to feel it. I told you the Good News was coming. It’s here; it’s there; it’s everywhere.

Sometimes I wonder. I wonder a lot. “Why?” is almost always a futile question, with one answer contradicting another, if any knowable possibilities exist. And in this case, I’m not sure they do exist. I used to wonder about the “Why?” of my own failed ambition. Then I realized where publication had gone and how it could only descend into an even worse abyss. “I was addicted to cocaine” must be the first line of a thousand memoirs.

I will start by giving the straight facts about AA. The program helps many, and adherents attribute their sobriety to it. I take them at their word. As I see it, whatever works, works. Nevertheless, AA is clearly a religious organization, steeped in Christian theology, with many of the meetings subtly reassuring the nonbeliever that he or she will, in time, come to pray on their knees, as I was so often told.

This approach is underpinned by the Big Book chapter entitled “We Agnostics.” It relates the central AA message: The group will accept atheists and agnostics, but unless they eventually accept a higher power known as “God,” failure is guaranteed. “Actually we were fooling ourselves,” the chapter asserts, “for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself. We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but he was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It is so with us.”

The same chapter later relates a story in which an alcoholic asks himself, “Who are you to say there is no God?” That, indeed is the question, or one side of the question. I might just as easily say, “Who are you to say there is one?”

The Christian roots of the AA program are well documented and continue to bloom in its Edenesque garden. I need not repeat the evidence here. It is not my duty to condemn or refute AA.  Rather, I wish only to warn agnostics and atheists that — after the short honeymoon — they will not be accepted by the program unless they accept its language, which irrefutably cannot in any way be interpreted as secular. Just as an atheist and a fundamentalist Christian would be unlikely to maintain a successful marriage, so the atheist and AA are unlikely to form a lasting bond. Exceptions exist, but the AA atheist or agnostic has a big house to build in order to house that much self-delusion.

I shall write from my experience. After much well-meaning advice from friends seeking to help me overcome my hesitation to join AA due to the “God factor,” I thought I had finally found a way around the problem of what exactly my “higher power” would be.  It would involve the infinite universe and the nothingness atheists, especially, and, to a lesser degree, agnostics, face. I would give myself over to nothingness, “turning over” my problems and thereby finding a faithless faith.

More than anything, I sought comradeship.  I found it, at first.  The key to the AA meeting is the common bond between all addicts and alcoholics.  I do not dispute that this is helpful. Indeed, AA could start and stop with that assertion, providing a truly all-inclusive safety net. However, as in all movements, the initial idea of AA was quickly reduced to dogma and a reactionary stance.

I began with the intention to find what I needed and leave out what I didn’t. I discovered what I needed at my first few meetings, which was the simple sharing of common experience.  But during the fifth meeting, the 11th Step was discussed. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”

While the words “as we understood Him” are often used to support the contention that AA members can believe God to be anything at all, the discussion revealed every single member as understanding God in the very same manner.  All had always believed or later came to believe in a Christian  God.  All had fallen to their knees and prayed. Others nodded their assent.  Oddly, every member understood prayer, but many could not grasp the idea of not praying: Does not compute.

When my turn to speak arrived, I simply restated that I was an atheist.  I threw the bone that I “may change my mind — who knows? — but that’s how I understand things now. I don’t see why this stance should discourage me or anyone else from seeking help here.”  I wanted to add, “By the way, I can teach the basics of meditation in ten minutes,” but I left it there, not wanting to be reprimanded for starting a philosophical debate.

My message was met with weak applause and a few askance glances. “Here,” I thought, “comes the first argument.”  The honeymoon was over.

Immediately after the meeting, I was twice pulled aside and told that I would come to find what all the others had found.  It seemed I must find it, since they had found it.  Just as I find it incomprehensible that anyone believes in a benevolent God, so they find it incomprehensible that anyone doesn’t. I could point to the Holocaust and say, “That event caused many survivors to lose faith or even conclude that God must be evil.  Isn’t that rather strange behavior from a God expecting so much attention?”  They would point to me and say, “You may go, but you’ll come back when you hit bottom again.”

Now, I must give AA its due. Through discussions not involving God, I was able to see how I had undermined myself via self-deception. This was certainly an accomplishment for which I thank AA. The problem, then, begins and ends right there. For me, such discussions were enough. Leaving God completely out of the program would allow anyone to benefit from it. Replacing faith in a higher power with the acknowledgment that the mind cannot always be trusted would achieve similar results.  No one would be excluded or made to feel they were violating the basic tenets of what amounts to faith.

I relate this to a short fling I had with Catholicism.  This occurred in my early thirties.  I found a way around every aspect of Catholicism with which I did not agree.  I discovered authors like Graham Greene, who seemed to harbor so many misgivings regarding the Church that it was nearly impossible to categorize him as Catholic. Graham himself claimed that he was a “Protestant within the Church.”  I had reached a different conclusion: “I am a Catholic even if there is no God.”  Irrational as this claim may seem, I was quite satisfied with it and myself. Eventually, I lost my ability to trick myself around the sticking points of Catholicism and my own “clever” argument.

Just about then, the child abuse scandal broke, and with it my faith finished collapsing.  It had been waiting to fall, and reassurance that the guilty priests proved the exception to the rule of good priests failed to convince me that I could, or should, restore a bridge that would crumble into the river below regardless of repair.

For AA to work, one must either completely accept its basic tenets or find some way to believe its central proposition despite one’s rejection of it, just as I had done near the end of my Catholicism. I am glad that some are able to do the latter, for many maintain sobriety within the program.

Others, like myself, may be as humble as any Christian and believe in transcendence (a scientifically proven phenomena, i.e., a literal state of mind provable by brain scans and other methods).  However, we cannot trick ourselves around praying, nor fail to detect the contradiction between AA and what we disbelieve. We cannot say, “We are not religious but spiritual.” We cannot accept the view that anyone, anything or any force watches over and protects us.

In short, those finding a home within AA meetings do well to make their beds there.  Those finding the same beds uncomfortable should resist complaining to the hotel manager and simply depart. If that person insists upon complaining, the manager will state that the traveler “shall find no better bed in the world, and you should thank God on your knees for having such a bed. Why, if you leave, you’ll come back. Until then, enjoy sleeping on beds of nails and knife-like rocks. You’ll be back, all right. You’ll return to see that this is the best and indeed only bed in the world.”  Such a traveler may remain a traveler; better to keep moving than fool oneself that a place in which one does not belong is the best and only place in the world.