A story about spiral dances.
I threw the beer can. It was half-full, just like Dorian’s head. So when it hit him, the damage was minimal. A brain in a half-full head is a self-parking mechanism. It floats—not in intelligent space, not in some New Age cogito-esque void full of purple smoke and glittery points of cosmic consciousness—but in an oily brine exuded by all the old lizard desires. In Dorian’s case, this meant racism, football, bros before hoes, and the ability to quote Rush Limbaugh chapter and verse. Dorian was an idiot, a bully, a formulaic high school tyrant. And I hit him with a beer can in the summer of 1992.
Only we weren’t in high school anymore. And Dorian had fucked himself up on oxycodone so bad after senior year that he now had a lazy eye. And I couldn’t afford college. And it had therefore become manifestly unclear who was having the last laugh, since Dorian was making five figures selling Toyotas with his dad on I-49 and I was pushing a mop in Kansas City three nights a week. Ha ha. Right? Modern life.
So the can. I’d never thrown a football straighter than a piece of cooked spaghetti, but the Miller can hit Dorian behind the left ear with military precision. And then he turned, about to hulk-out, with that lazy right eye probably giving him enhanced peripheral combat vision and his girlfriend, Lorena, shrieking like an agitated monkey: “No, Dor, don’t kill him!” And so there we were. But why I threw the beer can is somewhat more complicated and has to do with Ally and why we were angry and always dressed in black. (At that moment, Ally was in the car, watching, dressed in black.)
Black was our color and zero was our number. Nowhere was where it happened and nothing was the result. Our unspoken credo since 10th grade. Ally and I lived it like two little nihilists until we finally had sex in her attic and became something else. On October 14th, 1990, to be exact. Probably around 2:00 AM. And it wasn’t bad at all. I don’t think it’s strange to have recorded the date in Herr Diary. Strange is relative. And we were definitely strange according to everyone else in our school.
Dorian crossed the distance between us in a flash as soon as he saw who’d thrown the can. Because, a year after graduation, our high school pecking order was still hanging over us like some podunk Great Chain of Being. And the bros half of bros before hoes would have invalidated his status as a higher-order lifeform if said bros learned he backed down from me. But maybe that unique moment in time, in the Silver Hill Mall Parking Structure B, was part of the greater anomaly that had begun to warp my life, losing me the only woman I ever loved, and blasting me out of the Midwest forever like some doped-up chimp shot into space just for the yucks. Who’ll ever really know anything in this fallen world?
At the moment, though, the only monkey sounds were being made by Lorena. Ooh, baby, dooon’t! He came on like the Amtrak. And later I’d write in Herr Diary that I wasn’t sure exactly why I hit him with the car door of all things. But now I’m fairly convinced it was because I was terrified, realizing what I’d started, and I’d been trying to get into the car as fast as I could.
Force met force in a Newtonian kneecap singularity in which the 1965 Malibu door prevailed as the immovable object. I’d never seen someone’s leg buckle backwards at the knees before, but the Chevy had an oblong ridge along its doors at just the right elevation for hulkamania. Too bad for Dorian. It hurt him. But I regret nothing.
They called us freaks because we didn’t know goth from shinola. But we did have a one-tone wardrobe. We took German instead of Spanish, philosophy instead of P.E. Black coffee in the mornings and The Cure’s Disintegration, Ministry, KMFDM on cassette in the upper parking lot.
Toward the end of junior year, Ally got into Anton LaVey and started wearing an enormous goat-head pentagram, referring to herself as the Übermädchen. We got matching tattoos in Fraktur on our left shoulders that read, “Nichts.” I read The Virtue of Selfishness, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and Return of the Primitive. I decided that the world was cruel and nasty and that being able to accept this truth without stepping in front of the Amtrak on it’s 6:00 AM rumble outside our little town of Hauberk, MO, meant I was a superior being. Then Ally discovered an essay called, “Bitchcraft” and declared that she was a Satanic witch. And we had more sex. And she called it black magic. She cursed the whole football team, her mother, the principal, and “others.” Who those others were, Ally said she’d never reveal. We were seniors, then.
Dorian writhed on the ground, screaming, holding his knee with both hands. Lorena was so upset she stomped her feet, making her tan lines jiggle as she wailed in simian grief. I stood behind the door for a moment, looking down at Dorian. In the passenger seat, Ally lit a cigarette.
Then I snapped out of it, jumped in the car, and shot through the parking structure, bottoming out at the end of the B-level ramp and swerving into the night. We never did see Lethal Weapon 3. To this day, I can’t bring myself to watch it.
“That was . . . um . . . manly?” She rolled down the window because the ashtray was full. Ally’s hair was long and eggplant purple. It whipped around her head, hiding her expression. But I knew what it was.
“Just don’t, okay?”
“Go ahead. Drive faster, Mike.” Her way of saying I was driving too fast. She called it “lesser magic,” some speaking-in-opposites thing to control you. If I drove faster, I did what she wanted. If I slowed down, I did what she wanted. Then she could say to herself, See? Sheeple are easy. In truth—and I have admitted this to Herr Diary more than once—I threw the beer can because lately Ally had moved me from the people village to the sheeple pen. And I didn’t like that.
“What do you want from me? I know your fucking tricks.”
“Oh, really.” She flicked the cigarette out the window. “I don’t want to go home.”
“Well, I don’t want to take you home.”
“I’m not completely fed up with you, Mike.”
I punched the gas and ran the stop sign at the entrance to I-49. “I’m not fed up with you, either. I feel great. It’s been a great day.”
I had half a tank of gas and I was thinking of driving all the way to Kansas City at suicide velocity just to prove I couldn’t be manipulated, that I was the immovable Newtonian object that moved where it pleased.
But then Ally said, “He’s never going to walk right. You’re aware of that, aren’t you?”
I began to feel low, like I was worse than Dorian, roids and Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding. Now I’d never rise up on any Great Chain of Being. Never go from mineral to vegetable to mop-pusher to night watchman or whatever modicum of ascension I could have achieved if I’d only controlled myself in Parking Structure B.
So I turned around and took Ally home like good sheeple do. When we got there, she smirked, gave me a big theatrical wink, and said, “Catch ya later, tough guy. Call me,” which I think meant she never wanted to see me again. But you couldn’t be sure of anything when lesser magic was involved.
I sat in the car until the lights in her house went out, breathing in what I imagined were the last traces of her cigarette fumes. Though, it could have just been the ashtray.
I went to jail. And it wasn’t funny. When I got out, I needed a new job. I got temp work with a company that repaired farm buildings that had been damaged by tornadoes. Part of my job training was memorizing interesting tornado facts. Like, did you know that tornadoes have been reported in every state of the Union? Did you know that a tornado can occur at any time, but they are most likely to occur between 3:00 PM and 9:00 PM? That every tornado has its own color, sound, and shape? That the safest place to be during a tornado is far underground or in a foreign country or, optimally, far underground in a foreign country? That tornadic winds can accelerate a piece of straw up to 300 mph, effectively turning it into a toothpick projectile of death that can tack your guts to a telephone pole?
You don’t know these things because you’re normal. But having gone to jail and emerged as a tornado specialist, I had entered the paranormal. We pulled a lot of straw out of the corrugated metal walls of barns and granaries. The sun shone through the holes like god’s shotgun blast. We rebuilt houses, gathered the appendages of farm animals that had been torn apart and deposited on roofs, and inspected bathtubs for tornado durability. Missouri is in Tornado Alley and if you don’t have a sturdy bathtub, you’re asking for death. If you get caught in your house, the bathtub might be the last resort for shelter; though, there have been accounts of people being hurled extremely long distances while hiding in their tubs. There is no easy solution when your bathtub is hurled. You’re sheeple at that point. You’re Nichts.
Through all of this, I thought about Dorian, about Ally, about the future. I had regrets. I wished I could give Dorian back his knee. I wished I had told Ally I truly loved her and wished I’d suggested we take a break from backwards-talking bullshit and Ayn Rand and Die Übermädchen. I confided these things to Theo, an anorexic dreadlocked hippy who I worked with and who got me the tornado job because he also attended my court-mandated anger management course.
We’d be re-stuccoing the side of some farmhouse and he’d say, “Mike, are you mindfully releasing your anxiety triggers by allowing an abundance of positives into your conscious buffer?” And I’d say, “Yes, Theo, I’m trying to actualize as many focused positives as possible in this segment.” Only, we’d be using compressed-air stucco blasters. So it would sound more like, “Mye-SHHKEEREEYIT-allowing a-SHHHKOYIP-ositives into your-FLISSSHOP-uffer?”
But I’d know what he was saying because people in the anger management course always said the same things. I could have just talked about my “uffer” and Theo would have nodded. After a week of power-stuccoing, you’re half deaf. I wanted to feel good by confiding in Theo. Instead, I think the parts of my past he did understand just made him smoke more weed on break in his truck while trying to bring positives into the current segment. I think I was depressed. I think I was trying to give myself a “consciousness upgrade” as my anger coach called it. But jail, the thing that wasn’t funny, had changed me.
Dorian’s father got a lawyer who got the district attorney who got the police who got me. Dorian probably had the most expensive legal team in Missouri. The judge called it a “neutral street fight” in the hearing. The state chose not to bring assault charges against me. But there was the matter of battery with a car door, which was mitigated by it being my first offence and by the fact that it was impossible to prove I wasn’t just enveloped in white-knuckle terror, trying to get away from 268 lbs. of enraged ex-lineman hulkamania; though that’s not exactly how the judge put it. On my public defender’s advice, I pled down to “public affray” and got two months in Moberly Correctional, a year of anger management, and a $3000 fine to be paid in monthly instalments of $50 for the next five years. My public defender told me I was lucky. In retrospect, I think he might have been joking.
Ally never visited me, but she could have. The level 2 minimum security unit in Moberly Correctional was very relaxed. It was a mellow incarceration and the pepper steak was okay. I shared a cell with a nice Italian kid not too older than me who’d forged a bunch of checks in Saint Louis and got in a high-speed chase with the Highway Patrol while tripping balls. During the day, I mopped, cleaned the toilets, and did groundskeeping. In the evenings, I read books from the tiny prison library: Eat, Pray, Love, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Great Gatsby, The Razor’s Edge, How to Score with Women Under 30—the most used book there but strange, I thought, for a male prison—and The Spiral Dance by a New Age feminist in San Francisco who called herself Starhawk.
We were doing clean-up on a corporate dairy farm outside St. Joseph after a twister had de-legged five or six Holsteins, which meant we had to wear hazmat suits. It was just me, Theo, and two guys doing community service, which meant they disappeared as soon as we started unloading the biohazard bins from the truck. So it was basically just me and Theo.
“Damn. It never ceases to amaze me how much there actually is inside a cow.” Theo heaved a carcass into one of the big red bins.
“Hey. You ever hear of some chick named Starhawk out in California?”
Theo thought for a moment, scratched himself through his hazmat. “Yeah, I think so. She’s cool, right? Witchcraft. But the real militant feminist shit. Give us equal pay or we’ll hex your balls off!” Theo wiggled his fingers like a cartoon wizard. Only he couldn’t do it very well with heavy gloves on. So he added, “Ooooh,” and walked around with his arms sticking out straight like Frankenstein’s monster.
“I’m serious. You ever read The Spiral Dance?”
He stopped doing the monster and looked at me through the clear plastic visor of his suit. I wasn’t joking. I wasn’t releasing my anxiety triggers.
“You should. It’s good. You ever read any Ayn Rand?”
Theo looked at me a moment longer. Then he dug into the dirt that had been under the carcass with his shovel.
“You can keep that shit.”
Back in Moberly, The Spiral Dance had started me thinking. What if Ayn Rand had been wrong when she claimed that guns or logic are only two ways people can deal with one another? Starhawk’s vision was different—a single universal yoni constantly becoming aware of itself in greater degrees of particularity, a spiral dance of vaginal creation in which love was the force of individuation, the glue between the “myriad separate things of the world.” All in, that sounded pretty fucking reasonable.
Sitting in my cell, listening to the Italian kid snore while I read, I suddenly wanted to believe it more than Rand’s “Judge and prepare to be judged.” I’d been judged. Now I wanted to be a Wiccan vagina-hippie in a fairyland San Francisco where public affray wasn’t a thing and I didn’t have to imagine Dorian walking with a cane for the rest of his life. But in the margin beside Starhawk’s passage in which she called us all unique “swirls of the same energy,” someone had printed in barely readable ballpoint: So how come my brother got no hands? Because of swirls like me, dear friend. I’m a bad swirl. A bad, bad swirl.
After a month of upgrading my consciousness and de-tornadoing farms, I decided I had to find Ally. I didn’t know what I’d say. But I felt I had to say something. Instead, I’d find Dorian, which was not what I intended—or would ever intend if given the choice anywhere on a timeline between now and eternity.
But before that could happen, Theo blew up on me. He hadn’t said much in the week since I’d asked him if he’d ever read Ayn Rand. Then an Enhanced Fujita EF-3-level twister came through Hauberk at 165 mph. They called it the Marlena Tornado, after the small town just south of us that took the brunt of it. Like Marlena Detrich—a hot dead blonde now resurrected as a killing wind. Another bad swirl. It took off several roofs, but luckily nobody got hurt. We were in the truck, headed to a cornfield run by some genetics company, when Theo pulled into a ditch, got out, started screaming and pounding on the hood.
“What you don’t fucking understand, Mike, is that Ayn Rand completely disregards the question of metaphysics! That’s her first basic stupid fucking problem!”
I locked the truck’s doors. Happy pot-smoking Theo had become a werewolf.
“What about Descartes, huh? What about Hume? What about motherfucking Kant?”
“Theo? Hey man. I think you need to, you know, inventory your anxiety triggers.”
“Critique of Pure Reason, asshole.”
I was torn. Did I leave my best and only friend on the side of the highway raving about Ayn Rand failing to account for the Existentialist position on concrete human values? Or did I need to subdue him somehow, tie him up with strips of clothing and put something in his mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue?
He rattled the driver’s side door handle. “Open up. OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR YOU OBJECTIVIST.”
“I am not, nor have I ever been, an Objectivist.”
“Don’t LIE to me, Mike.”
“Truth! Kant is logically consistent in his argument that human beings are valuable in themselves! But Rand contradicts this assumption when she argues that altruism is immoral! Breathe, Theo! Breathe!”
After a moment, his therapy kicked in. He held up his hands as if to say okay, okay, and took a few deep cleansing breaths.
“You are a white cone of joyful light!”
He closed his eyes, breathing, mouthing the words: I am a white cone of joyful light.
“Your anger is not you! It is a feeling passing through you!”
My anger is not me. It is a feeling passing through me.
“Anger is a choice you can decide not to make!”
Anger is a choice I can decide not to make.
The mantra seemed to work. Mr. Vignus, my high school philosophy teacher, used to say that philosophy could save your life. Only now did I understand.
What was a book like The Spiral Dance doing in a prison library anyway? It made less sense than How to Score with Women Under 30. Starhawk’s book had a creased spine and dogeared pages. It had been read a lot of times since—according to the stamp inside the front cover—making its spiral way to Moberly Correctional back in 1979. Maybe all people, no matter how deviant, are in search of some kind of connection. However, it is worth noting that on the shelf directly above The Spiral Dance, right beside For Whom the Bell Tolls, were four tattered bright orange copies of Mein Kampf.
Theo didn’t speak for the rest of the way. I just sat in the truck, staring at the fields outside Hauberk, bewildered. I felt sure of only two things. My anger was not me. And lesser magic was a bitch.