The Baptismal Accident of Young Mullwiler
Today we are lucky to havea piece from one of my favourite writers, Charles Dickey, author of The Sentiments, and mastermind behind one of the oolest Indie hangouts, Fiercely Interdependent, a place for independent-minded creatives who aren’t afraid of the social issues that go hand in hand with culture. (Copyright & all rights are Charles’). This is the opening of a longer piece.
“Here I stand, on nothing. My principles are all being undermined by the vast waste of consumer culture. In this, the decline of western civilization, could it be that your most astute children, smarter and wiser than you, are being crushed by the spiritless machinations of the marketplace? How will you explain to them that you have contaminated the world with your imperial financial ambitions?”
These were the questions that Henry Mullwiler entertained himself with in the odd hours of the night. To say that they were his entertainment would not be completely correct, but there it is. They were the thoughts leading to his eventual liberation, but first, came the depression. It had afflicted him from time immemorial, as the Indians say, but if that is too much hyperbole and exaggeration for you, then how about this: having read all of the absurdist works of the early 20th century by his 12th birthday in 1988, Henry felt haunted by what had come before. His white ancestors were merely that: white, pasty, like nothing that had a soul, and he could feel that like something ripped away from his skin, like a band-aid or a scab, because he indeed had a soul. He could see it in his own eyes, in the mirror.
On his 12th birthday he was giving himself a speech. He stood in front of the mirror in a necktie, rhapsodizing about his own personal nihilism, which fit him well but did not serve him. As was his wish, he was spending the evening alone, having earlier taken the offered cake and ice cream from his parents and a group of friends and acquaintances. As it stood now, though, he felt utterly isolated from his brethren, his class, and his race, and was trying to explain his predicament to himself.
The mirror held his image, but he did not find the holding flattering. Actually, he wished the image would go away. After aborting his speech in mid-sentence, Henry sat down at his typewriter in the middle of the room—it was on the floor—and began to bang out a manuscript of some importance, or so he told himself. Unable to expectorate the sentiments that had lodged deep inside his lungs, wedging their horrid little bitternesses into his heart on his bad days, he instead sat down to the keys.
Oh, the keys. He didn’t come to them often, and had just now set the typewriter in the middle of the room. He was revising his thoughts, deciding that he would write metafiction, a fantasy of sorts. Lining his bookshelves were all sorts of graphic novels, a couple of bibles, several leather-bound copies of old classics that used to be his father’s. He was trying to get around the problem now, was what he was doing. He typed faster.
The long and the short of it came out in one page, which he examined with some satisfaction. Was this how it was done, then? he asked himself. He folded the paper up for safe keeping, and placed it on the desk.
On the desk was a vial of blue ink, which he examined for perfection or imperfection. These were the two dual poles which he was convinced must exist, much as the children of a lesser time thought about good and evil, law and chaos. For Henry, there were aesthetics, rather than morals. Did it move him? Was it worthy of framing, of repeated viewings? These were the questions, and he scanned the world for their answers.
On another day, Henry would have had enough of the moldering, modular castle in which he lived, and gone out for a walk. The castle was made of hundreds of trailers and other modular buildings, invented for convenience and portability. This was the legacy of his suburban family. The savings were invested in more and more trailers, which were stacked on each other in puzzling architectures until the whole thing resembled a hive more than a castle. It was an immense, plastic-looking encampment of trailers built into each other and around each other, self-contained in its own hodge-podge existence.
Henry was out hunting for nonsense. He had had enough of the old extremities: yes this, no that. He wanted to observe his river, which flowed without dichotomies, without logic that hinged on this or that. After all, like any man of the world, Henry was trying to communicate something with his letters, and if he didn’t have a higher power to study, then it was all for naught, and so he sought out the river.
The river was a ribbon of nebulous blue, now rushing, there cut by brackets of rock. Further on, it ducked under a bridge, was diverted into a ragged steel tunnel. Henry could easily climb down the bank and trudge through the tunnel, clinging to the high ground of the walls. He was absolutely concentrating when he did this, and he liked the sense of not-thinking that it gave him, there in the darkness, the water trickling on below him. He imagined that one slip would mean being permanently swept up into confusion and delirium. To lose his hold on the wall would be to lose his tenuous hold on things altogether, and so it happened one day when climbing through the tunnel that he became distracted. A paper boat passed by, apropos of nothing, and Henry took his eye off of the corrugated steel that he was working himself along with his great and uncanny skill, and he fell. Into the river he went, and after that the world for Henry was never quite the same.
Something about getting wet, about letting go—even accidentally as it had happened—caused Henry to laugh. Suddenly, a small switch within his brain clicked over, and he had had enough. Of course, it couldn’t stay this way, but in that moment, the 12 year-old boy suffered a series of insights that flashed away across his inner eyelids, and as the swiftly-moving water washed him beyond the culvert and into the neighboring county, he realized that, without meaning to, he had shifted his perception. Something had changed. Henry, after that, became a born-again county-hopper.