I was on a bicycle. I should mention that.
By Ivan Von Noshrilgram Sr
It was 1955. The year The Muse first spoke to me. Or, should I say, through me. It was a Wednesday and a chilly, blustery fall day. Almost winter, the trees, cold and hard, held but a few brittle leaves, which rattled bitterly in the wind. Bereft of summer’s beauty, the landscape was a suffocating blur of gray and brown. I felt ill at ease. I stopped. And then it began.
I’ll never forget that precise moment. It was the beginning, and I would soon be transformed! The change would be irrevocable and clear and, to further emphasize the impact of this, I remember distinctly the smells in the air, the clothing I wore, every item in my pockets and the foolish thoughts running through my 61 year-old head just moments before it happened. It seems some things one never can forget; they are stamped in our mind with an indelible ink that perhaps only death can erase.
I was on a bicycle. I should mention that. It was a warmer day than most. I wore a dark grey cardigan. It was open but I was growing uncomfortably hot. At one point I was struck by a gust of wind and caught a hint of sandalwood drifting across a humble rice field from nearby Kinkakuji Temple. Yes, I remember that smell! I have it now in my mind. It was thick and dry, and as it sailed upon the crest of that capricious burst of air, my cardigan slapped against my sides as if to say “Open your eyes, Von Noshrilgram!! Today’s the day!” I was but five minutes from the home of the abbot of the previously mentioned temple when I heard The Voice clearly through the rustling of the tassels on the little girl’s bicycle I had mistakenly grabbed at the train station and now found myself riding. (Note: this sort of accident is commonplace in Japan, so I am told. We’re often in such a rush to get home, and frequently it’s dark.)
I cannot remember what was communicated to me that day exactly. However, The Voice spoke in a deep, knowing way with such sublime eloquence I felt it must be shared. It was the sound of Truth. It whispered in a conspiratorial tone, with a disorienting sense of familiarity:
“…WOWY, YOUR FOREHEAD IS GIGANTIC!”
Overcome in this faraway and alien landscape, my feet (in their flip-flops) rapidly lost control of the plastic pedals of the Hello Kitty 2000 TM and I zigzagged along the path for several meters. Finally, I stopped at the community information board and leaned on it as I replayed what I’d just heard.
“Could this REALLY be happening?” I hesitated to ask myself, so filled with humble disbelief was I. Could The Muse, one of the nine deities of Greek and Roman mythology (which presides over the branches of learning and the arts: The Muse that inspired all great artists and intellectuals of recorded western history) be demanding my attention? …Me? Ivan Von Noshrilgram Sr, celebrated philosopher-botanist, wild game hunter, exotic animal trainer, humanist lecturer, extinguished firewalker, writer and linguist? The only son of a cross-eyed life insurance salesman?
Still leaning, I snapped the kickstand out - not unlike Marlon Brando in The Wild One.
I did not attempt to interpret. I continued simply to lean - mostly because my cardigan was hooked firmly to a hamlet of staples protruding from the lamppost. My forehead, pressed into the grain of the wood, I set to work on the staples anxiously.
“...WHAT?” The Voice whispered incredulous, noticing the vexed expression on my face. “WELL, IT IS... YOUR HEAD IS POINTY TOO, IF WE’RE TALKING ABOUT IT. ON THE BACK, BEHIND YOUR EARS. …EEEK! LOOK AT THOSE EARS!!!”
I yanked my cardigan free, inadvertently removing a substantial patch of wool the size and shape of a stainless steel cigarette lighter. I looked through it with dismay and saw an angry little girl with a Hello KittyTM knapsack hanging menacingly from her shoulder. To her right a mob of hard-boiled seven-year-olds stood glaring, while cracking their knuckles.
Gurgle, gurgle ...gurgle. (This mysterious sound emanated from somewhere in the void before me.) “HEAR THAT?” said the Voice. “DID YOU?! THAT SOUND MEANS... WEEEEEHEEEE! IT’S LUNCH TIME AGAIN!”
I let the bicycle drop and ran.
Over the next glorious weeks and, in fact, months that followed, my fine-tuned sense of self altered, first in hesitant little increments, then in leaps and bounds; my focus too seemed to sharpen dramatically and like the one man who slyly escaped from a cave of near darkness (conceived by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who lived between 469 BCE and 399 BCE), my previous comprehension of reality fractured into infinite, barely recognizable slivers. The saffron robe and large shiny Mickey Mouse watch I became associated with at this time were a formal statement of sorts that my perception had been heightened. It was during this period as well, incidentally, that I began the dissemination of my highly popular Executive Yoga SystemTM that grew eventually out of my control and which was concomitant with my gradual exclusion from the weekly sawing classes I had come to adore with close associates A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a young, limerick-obsessed Henry Kissinger. (Alas, these were both lonely times, and times exhilarating…)
“HEY GIANT FOREHEAD GUY!!. GIANT FOREHEAD! …HELLOOO?! I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME. DOES MY BUM LOOK LARGE IN THIS? UH. IT’S NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION,” The Voice said, and then there was scratching. “…OH RIGHT! YOU CAN’T SEEEEE ME!!” I heard it say, then it snicker. “HYSTERICAL. SO YOU CAN’T SEE THIS EXPRESSION ON MY FACE RIGHT NOW? WHAT ABOUT THIS ONE? …ANYHOO, LISTEN. BE SERIOUS. I GOT A DEEP THOUGHT IN MY BRAIN THAT I GOTTA SHARE. GRAB A PENCIL AND LOTS OF PAPER...”
SEVERAL MONTHS LATER:
It might be clear to the reader not so inclined to the extraordinary that all might not have been precisely as it struck me then. Well, you are right. Indeed. We often, as fragile humans, find ourselves overwhelmed magically by one thing or another; we become hypnotized by the sounds and lights; we, immersed in experience, later find our reason has been dissolved by phantoms, by our own self-generated illusions. What I relate to you is precisely one of those times, when, lost in Newton’s world - a mundane and finite labyrinth - we subconsciously yearn for some form of emancipation into another realm where we might fly. “Oh, fly small child! ...Fly!” But fly too high and the unforgiving light of Reason will melt your puny wax wings - or, inform you, in a roundabout way, that a toaster is not an acceptable mode of transportation. And so we plunge back to the big ugly sphere where one plus one equals two: our empirical world of induction.
Certainly, certainly, certainly, there was a point when something simply ‘clicked’, as they say. A revelation was granted, you might propose. At that moment the drapes of illusion were yanked viciously from my eyes, and I beheld the world again before me, as if for the first time. I suppose we all must have moments of folly. Sometimes these are moments which are swift and enlightening and, if we are really lucky, no one sees - like when you exit the restroom at a Chinese restaurant having inadvertently tucked your dress shirt into your underpants and the elastic wanders rapidly towards your sternum and you step back in, pretending to have forgotten something important. And other times these moments are full-blown episodes, which are followed by the necessity of medication, or even a gentle tap to the nape of the neck with a large frozen turkey.
My revelation was swift. It came at a crossroads – in the kitchen, between the garage and the refrigerator. When I was hit, the impact was earth shattering. I strove to remain calm, tried to keep my crumbling universe concealed, but I exposed myself, really, that very moment before the open refrigerator when I inserted the car key into the coleslaw and tried to start up the meat drawer. That I wasn’t in possession of a ‘valid crisper’ doesn’t seem, after sober consideration, to warrant a 60, 000 yen traffic ticket. Can anyone really double-park a collection of poultry? I suppose I should thank the very polite Japanese police officer who pulled me out of such a conspicuous state of denial. (That said, I will never again wave to pedestrians in the Ginza district from a moving vehicle with such abandon and unconditional love.)
But, my revelation! My revelation that The Muse was not The Muse, was certainly devastating for me at the time. I think more so because what I believed to be one of the “nine deities of Greek and Roman mythology which presides over the branches of learning and the arts” was, in fact, my Ukrainian aunt, Aunt Oogie, who it seems was transmitting powerful psychic message rays somehow while sleeping before her new 36 inch General Electric television - though, not surprisingly, she denies any involvement. Why Aunt Oogie? Sigmund Freud would have had a field day. However, the endless comments concerning the unattractive dimensions of certain body parts that I share with Amos P. Silverman, her husband (my biological uncle) and the continual references to ten-pin bowling should have tipped me off. Yes, that the Golden Girls might not be the prime motivating force of The Muse simply did not occur to me. However, there is a silver lining: I now know, after some meticulous research that sponge cake is not included in the vernacular of any (known) Greek deity.
We all have 20/20 vision when we look back at our blunders. But before we truly learn our lessons, there is often great beauty to our visions; in fact, it seems all things Beautiful are illuminated badly, and it is in the shadows that we hide our longing. I suppose, if you’re Mr Freud that’s probably where you’d hide your mother. But what do I know? - I am just a celebrated philosopher-botanist, wild game hunter, exotic animal trainer, humanist lecturer, extinguished firewalker, writer, linguist and former visionary.
Ivan Von Noshrilgram Sr