Archive for May, 2010

“Open your arms, dance with me until I feel alright…”

Friday, May 21st, 2010

It was midday on July 14th, 1518, when Frau Troffea began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg, France.

A crowd gathered to watch as she danced into the night, until finally collapsing to sleep.

When Frau awoke the next day, she began her dance again, and once more, she did not stop.

This behavior continued.  Her feet became a mess of purple bruises and bloody sores, but still she danced.

After six days, 34 people had joined in Frau’s dance.  Three weeks later, there were 400 townspeople dancing.

Authorities, per the advice of local physicians, prescribed “more dancing”.  Musicians were hired, halls cleared and professional dancers commissioned to keep the afflicted on their feet.  By the end of the summer, dozens had died from starvation, exhaustion, heart attacks, and strokes.  Those remaining were herded aboard wagons and taken to a healing shrine.

The dancing epidemic did not subside until September.

Although the cause of this plague is still unknown, it has been suggested that the town experienced stress-induced psychosis. Having suffered severely from famine, and in many cases wiped out and reduced to begging, the region was in an ongoing crisis. The area was riddled with diseases, including smallpox, leprosy, and syphilis.  It is theorized that the stress was so intolerable, a mass psychological illness resulted.

Or perhaps everyone just loved to dance.

A friend of mine has an extra ticket to LCD Soundsystem tomorrow night.  I’m going to go, and I’m going to dance.  Maybe I’ll never stop.

My Time in Oz

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Dorothy: But it wasn’t a dream, it was a place.  And you, and you, and you, and you were there.  But you couldn’t have been, could you?

Aunt Em: Oh, we dream lots of silly things when we-

Dorothy: No Aunt Em.  This was a real, truly live place.  And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice… but most of it was beautiful.  But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, I want to go home.  And they sent me home.  Doesn’t anybody believe me?

I’d been in Oz for months.

Some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful.  Like Dorothy, I thought it was real.  A part of me still believes.  This may be a testament to my foolishness, as I have recently viewed evidence indicating that Oz is nonexistent.

At first, I was enraged with the harshness of this revelation.  Its delivery was brutal, and it evoked in me the filthiest of emotions.  These feelings wanted to inflict as much pain as the heartbreak from which they were produced, so they became alive through graceless acts and piercing words.  It felt like I was led to Oz with gentle affection, only to be notified of its fictitiousness with reckless abandon.

I was also furious with myself for believing such a place did exist.  Although I saw it, many people did not.  Still I assured them that Oz was not imaginary, and I supported this certainty with tales of my time there.  I trusted in it; Oz made me feel safe.  Now faced with the possibility that it was all in my mind, silencing the self-resentment seems impossible.

As this anger bred from adoration is exiled from my body, I am left with a familiar sadness.  It’s just so terribly disheartening, the whole situation.  It pains me to think that none of it was real.

Honestly, I need to find my ruby slippers and get the fuck out of this town for a while.  Otherwise, I might end up like Dorothy in Return to Oz.  (If you haven’t seen it, the poor girl was committed to a psychiatric hospital because of her dreams.  And I have a lot of dreams.)

Actually, I much prefer Return to Oz over Wizard of Oz, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

A Conversation With Justin, & A Rather Long, Pointless Story About A Dead Man

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

“Dude, why are you slacking on the postings?” Justin asked.  “Whenever I’m feeling depressed, I read one and it picks me up.”

“I’m writing one now!” I replied.  “I’ve been busy with school.  I’m hoping to post one today and one tomorrow.”

“Cool,” he said.

I continued.  “Today being less personal, tomorrow being more typical Ashleigh-wah-my-life.”

He was disappointed.  “I hate your less personal ones.  It’s like you’re trying to get into the New Yorker or something, which is dumb.  But the wah-my-life ones make me feel like things could get a lot worse, so I may as well not feel so bad about my shitty life.”

I laughed.  “I’m glad my misery cheers you up,” I told him.

“Well, at least it serves some purpose other than you using us, the public, for your own self-medication,” he finished.

On the evening of November 30, 1948, a man and his wife were walking through Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia.  Across the way, there was a man lying slumped over in the sand with his head against the seawall and feet pointing toward the water.  They saw the man make a movement with his right hand, as though he were trying to smoke a cigarette, and then drop his arm limply.

The couple assumed the man was drunk, and they continued walking.

Later that night, a young girl and her boyfriend were strolling along the promenade at the top of the seawall.  The stopped to have a seat near the steps leading down to the beach.  From their resting spot, the girl saw a man’s left hand lying motionless beside his body.  They commented between themselves that he may be dead because he was not reacting to the mosquitoes.  The lovers remained for about thirty minutes, during which the man did not move.  They concluded that he was drunk or asleep, and thus did not investigate further.

The next morning, the husband from earlier in the previous evening went back to the beach for a swim.  He noticed that the same man was still propped up against the seawall in the same position as the night before.  The police were notified.

Upon arrival at the scene, an officer examined the body and found no signs of disturbance.  The left arm was lying beside the body and the right arm was double bent. An unlit cigarette was behind his ear, and a half-smoked cigarette was lying on the right collar of his coat.

There was nothing unusual about a man dying in a public place, so it was assumed that someone would soon come forward to claim him.

Two days later a post-mortem examination was conducted. Until then it was thought that the man had died from natural causes. Now, however, a mystery began to emerge: despite numerous tests, no cause of death could be discovered.

The body was found to be that of a tall 45-year-old European man in excellent physical condition. Consistent with poisoning, his stomach was found to be highly congested with blood, and his heart had failed.  However, tests did not reveal any poison.

All labels on his clothes were missing, and he had no hat, which was unusual for 1948, especially so for someone wearing a suit.  He was clean-shaven, had no distinguishing marks, and carried no identification.

The police began extensive enquiries to establish the man’s identity. Photographs, fingerprints, and dental records were circulated throughout Australia, New Zealand and all English-speaking countries.  No record of the man could be found.  It was like he had never existed.

A search of his pockets revealed the following items:

  • a used bus ticket from the city to St. Leonards in Glenelg
  • an unused second-class rail ticket from the city to Henley Beach
  • an aluminum comb, manufactured in America
  • a half pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum
  • an Army Club cigarette packet containing Kensitas cigarettes (a different brand)
  • a quarter full box of matches

In January 1949, staff at the Adelaide Railway Station found an unclaimed suitcase in the cloakroom with the luggage label removed. It had been checked in after 11a.m. on November 30th, 1948.  Clothing in the case matched that worn by the man, with identification marks removed. The entire contents of the suitcase were:

  • a red checked dressing gown
  • a pair of size seven red felt slippers
  • four pairs of underpants
  • pajamas
  • shaving products
  • a pair of light brown trousers with sand in the cuffs
  • an electrician’s screwdriver
  • a stenciling brush
  • a table knife cut down into a short, sharp instrument
  • a pair of scissors as used on merchant ships for stenciling cargo
  • a thread card of Barbour brand orange waxed thread, the same as that used to repair lining in a pocket of the trousers the dead man was wearing

And so the mystery deepened. Numerous people went to view the embalmed body.  Some even claimed that they knew him, but ultimately an identity was not established.

Three months later, further examination of clothing found on the body revealed a secret pocket within one of the trouser pockets.  Inside was a piece of paper with the words “Taman Shud” printed on it.  Public library officials found that the words came from the last page of a collection of poems written 900 years ago by a Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, called The Rubaiyat.

The theme of the poem was that one should live life to the fullest and have no regrets when it ended. The words Taman Shud mean “the end” or “the finish”.

A photograph of the scrap of paper was sent to interstate police and released to the public, leading a random person to admit he had found a very rare first edition copy of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat in the back seat of his unlocked car in Glenelg on the night of November 30, 1948.  The book was missing the words “Taman Shud” on the last page, and tests indicated that the piece of paper was torn from the book.

In the back of the book were faint pencil markings of five lines written in all capital letters, with the second struck out. The strike out is now considered significant with its similarity to the fourth line, possibly indicating a mistake, and therefore likely proof the letters are code:

MRGOABABD
MLIAOI
MTBIMPANETP
MLIABOAIAQC
ITTMTSAMSTGAB

Code experts were called in at the time to decipher the lines but were unsuccessful.

When the code was analyzed by the Australian Department of Defense in 1978, they made the following statements:

There are insufficient symbols to provide a pattern.
The symbols could be a complex substitute code or the meaningless response to a disturbed mind.
It is not possible to provide a satisfactory answer.

More recent attempts to solve the case suggest that the letters aren’t random, just some mysterious cipher with which no one is familiar.

The identity of the deceased man and cause of death remain unsolved to this day.

Police photo of the dead body (above), the dead man’s code from the back of The Rubaiyat (below)

Snooze Button (My Kitchen Sink, The Mental Hospital, Archaeology, & A Giant Whale)

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

I went to see the Reverend last night. Afterward, still highly intoxicated, I arrived home and sat on my sofa, legs uncrossed and arms at my sides.

I felt like I was falling apart. I wanted to cry, but I stopped myself in fear of waking up with eyes swollen and incriminating. So I slept.

My alarm thrust me out of a peculiar dream in which my kitchen sink was clogged with meat. The meat looked like dog food, and dream-me was disgusted by it. As I shoveled it out, it kept seeping up through the holes in the sink strainer.

I immediately pressed the snooze button and listened to my inner monologue. It was distorted, robotic and demonic. The words turned to barking. This frightened me.

When my alarm went off the second time, I hit the snooze button again. I thought about my friend who had checked himself into a mental hospital years ago. I considered this option for myself, but decided against it. They would likely want to medicate me, and I am not a fan of such things. I want to learn to control my emotions; I want to teach myself discipline. Maybe I can never stop caring, but to appear as though I don’t care would suffice.

(On Friday night I drunk-texted the above mentioned friend: I want to beat my head against the wall til it’s bloody but I won’t. I won’t. The text produced no response, yet I know he understood.)

Once more the alarm and the snooze button. This time in my half-slumber I contemplated running away to a place that no one knows. There I would curl up into a ball and die, only to be found 1,000 years later by a team of archaeologists.  They would never be able to see how crazy I had been.  They would only see the bones of an average girl in her late twenties, who had seemingly lived a life of normal mental capacity.

Nine more minutes passed, and a final execution of the snooze button carried me closer to sleep and further from reality. I saw a whale, a giant whale in outer space. The beast was bigger than the entire solar system, and it slithered like a snake through the stars. When it got to earth’s moon, it opened its enormous jaws and swallowed the moon whole. Then it turned towards the sun. I knew for sure it would eat her up next, and everything would be dark forever.

But I awoke. About forty minutes later I was on the L train, mulling over my sanity (as I so often do). The more I convince myself that I’m crazy the crazier I feel, but isn’t that in itself crazy?  And if I’m falling apart, I can just get some glue and slap on a smile and go face the world.  If that means I’m trying to prove something to myself, like that I can control my emotions and have a good time, then so be it.  Still I don’t know what the right choice is and I never know what to do.  I’m pretty sure that all of this pain and sadness is my fault because I am letting it happen, so I am doing this to myself.  And even if I am being tortured does that make me a victim or a masochist or a fool?  But I’m in too deep now so it doesn’t matter…

Currently I am working to keep what I have deemed my “crazy switch” turned to an off position. To do this, I need to determine what activates it. An early theory suggests it is the consumption of extensive amounts of booze, followed by someone’s actions or words that my drunk-mind interprets as cruelty unto my person.

Once the switch is flipped, the dam in my mind gives way and I become vicious and unrelenting, and ultimately sorrowful and crying, disappointed in myself and my actions. The next day I apologize when appropriate. If I determine that my actions are justified, i.e., someone had actually been callous to me, I still acknowledge the situation.  (Not acknowledging it only allows it to be a plague on my subconscious, an often unnecessary affliction since things are always worse in one’s own mind than in actuality.)

In any case, I just wish I could control myself.

I simply want to be a nice person.  Always.

(It looks as though I’ll have to write about snow globes another time.)

In other news, I saw a dead bird today. Maybe a change is coming.

A Case of Sudden Insanity (The Excitement of the Journey)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I still feel as though I am going insane.

Sometimes I think we’re all flakes of plastic trapped in a snow globe.  Shaken.  Settled.  And shaken again.

I’ll elaborate tomorrow.  Hopefully.

Much like Mrs. Simmonson, the excitement of the journey seems to wear upon me…