Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly A Tribute To Alan Harrington

The Author Of 'The Immortalist' Failed To Defeat Death, But He Left Behind A Legacy Of Love And Respect.

By His Friends

July 8, 1997:  IT WAS THE novelist Vance Bourjaily, as I recall, who introduced me to Alan Harrington back in the winter of 1983, saying, "You'll like him. He's a good man and a good writer." We assembled at Jack's--the long-gone downtown watering hole whose well-heeled clientele Ed Abbey once startled by bellowing, in Alan's pained presence, "Smells like lawyers in here!"--on a cold Friday afternoon. We downed oysters on the half shell, drank, and talked until long into the night. The conversation was fine, if somewhat hard to follow, both because Alan tended to mumble and because, thanks to an ocular condition that sent his gaze off right and left at the same time, you could never quite tell when he was addressing you and not the person across the table.

For all that, I quickly discerned that Alan was, as Vance had promised, a good man, if one who nursed what I took to be somewhat peculiar ideas. I had a cold that night. Hearing me sniffle and wheeze into my beer, Alan drew himself up and proclaimed that sickness was an illusion, one in which he most assuredly did not believe. "I don't know about that, Alan," I said, "but this cold sure seems to believe in me." He smiled indulgently, but I think he thought a little the less of me for falling prey to a petty virus, to say nothing of a full-time job, a habit he had kicked after selling part of his soul to the advertising racket for a number of years.

Alan was a firm believer in the power of the mind over the body, and I'll say this: I never knew him to suffer a cold. I sometimes wondered if he learned a few illness-eluding tricks from his stepfather, the Tohono O'odham shaman Juan Xavier, who reputedly could change himself into owl or wolf at will, and who also, Alan told me, didn't believe in getting sick. Alan's attraction to such shedding-the-body techniques as the use of psychoactive drugs and cryogenics--both of which led to a famous, if perhaps overstated, association with Timothy Leary--may well have owed to mysterious lessons learned close to home.

Illness eventually caught up with Alan, but not until he had reached the age of 79. It came in the form of a leukemia diagnosed early in April, and it came fast; Alan died just six weeks later, on May 23. I visited him as he lay ill, drifting into and out of consciousness. Although others here comment on his timid approach to modern life, which is certainly a true enough characterization, I thought as I watched him sleep that he faced his impending death gracefully and even bravely, calling for ice cream, asking after the well being of his friends, and thanking those whom he loved for their presence in his life. He may have been frightened, but he went gently and nobly all the same.

I'm not sure how literary history will remember Alan Harrington. Almost all of his books are out of print, and when he died he was something of a well-kept secret, recalled most often for having been the character Hal Hingham whom Jack Kerouac's and Neal Cassady's alter egos visit under "the snowy Catalinas" in the later pages of On the Road. He was not exactly of the Beat Generation, although he was certainly allied with the likes of Kerouac and Cassady, Ginsberg and Huncke, and, yes, Leary. They are all gone now, some very recently. Gone, too, is Alan Harrington's friend William Eastlake, the quiet bard of Bisbee, also 79, who died just a week after Alan.

Vance Bourjaily was right to point out how good Alan Harrington was as a writer: he succeeded remarkably as a picaresque novelist (in The Revelations of Dr. Modesto), as a social critic (in Life in the Crystal Palace), as a futurist (in The Immortalist), and as an essayist-journalist for magazines like Harper's. For all that, for being a fine writer and a much-respected teacher of the craft, he deserves to be remembered. He also deserves to be remembered as a good man, and as a good friend to many here in Tucson and elsewhere.

The testimonials that follow speak to all these matters. Here and there are mixed in some of Alan's own writings--and some of his last words, recorded by his beloved friend Margo Burwell.

Alan's ashes are buried not far from here, on a gentle hillside outside Oracle. He did not escape death as he had so passionately hoped, but he ended well, I think: facing the northern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains under spreading mesquite trees, a granite cairn to mark his resting place. His books are a memorial, too, that deserve reading and rereading. He will be missed. But they will endure.

--Gregory McNamee




ALAN HARRINGTON LOOMED huge in my life, the synapse that connected me with some of the most important relationships in my life. He was there in the beginning--after the Tet Offensive--when I showed up at Ned Spicer's place on Fort Lowell, visiting my fellow Green Beret medic Barry Spicer, who took me over to meet Tucson's only beatnik (so far as I knew), the great intellectual and writer Alan Harrington. With his baggy pants, lurching mantis-moves, and single wandering eye, only the beatnik part didn't fit.

And how incredibly generous this man was; he seeded friendships that still write the history of the West. Through Alan Harrington, I met Bill Eastlake, another great man of the American Southwest, and, later that winter, Edward Abbey. His generosity was especially supportive of local writers and desert heroes, many of whom I first met at Alan's: Ed Gage, Neil Claremon, Tom Cox, Chuck Bowden, Greg McNamee, Bill Broyles, Bunny Fontana, Julian Hayden, Drum Hadley, Terry Moore, Dan Budnik, Bill Root, to name a few. He remained, to the end, Tucson's great man of letters.

Today, I live with an abandoned cat in a mountain home looking down on a great wild valley where I still fight the noble wars inherited from those friendships--for freedom, for wilderness, for wolves, lions, bison, grizzlies, our wild relatives. That's enduring direction for the whacked-out, war-weary Vietnam veteran with few social skills and no talent for reentering society who showed up on Harrington's back porch almost 30 years ago. I owe Alan for much of that.

A parting memory lingers: after an evening of rare intelligence and conversation that edged into the core of our humanity, Alan, towering above all, me and Peggy Harrington, the three of us a bit tipsy from drink, dancing, swaying arm in arm in the early morning, Orion dipping into the Catalinas, poised for another immaculate desert sunrise.

--Doug Peacock




ALAN WAS SO MUCH opposed to the (so far) inevitability of dying that it comes almost as a cruel irony that he actually died. I imagine he's still pissed about it, and may haunt me, like "You're supposed to be a big life-extension expert. Why didn't you work harder so I wouldn't be in this damned hole?"

"I'm sorry, Alan, but man! I've done the best I could. And I can call you back a little--by reading your books, enjoying through them your inquiring wit and penetrating insight, your joy in life--and you'll come all right to such a call...but sadly, because you can't really come again to be among us. Yeah! It ain't good, your dying; but we celebrate your life."

I first met Alan Harrington while he was writing his ground-breaking book The Immortalist, and while I didn't see him all that often, we were good friends for the rest of his life. A thoughtful, kind man who, with good humor, got you to reveal yourself, he stayed up-to-the-minute, interested in and engaged in life pretty much all the way through it and right up to the end. I liked that in him very much, and it's uncommon. And I loved him and respected him.

Alan, if I could get you out of there, I sure as hell would. With my bare hands!

--Dr. Roy L. Walford




FIRST, A WORD about us. He was for me larger than life. The head. The breath. The core--and the worm. The hardest thing I ever did was leave. I loved him then. I love him still.

Life with Alan was never easy, but--and how he feared this possibility--it was never boring. It was an adventure of ideas. New, old, quirky, endearing and absurd. He could turn a trip to the deli into a walk on the moon. Never mind that the way was rocky....

The odd moments and occasions were legion. An example:

The Immortalist was in the final stages of draft and Alan was exploring the scientific world of possibility to achieve an end to death. One early summer evening we found ourselves in a dreary mid-Long Island town at the house of a young group of new entrepreneurs. Blue-collar to the core, it was an exurb community of single-family stucco and frame homes with attached garages and plaster gnomes and flamingos gracing the postage-stamp front lawns. In the center of the garage of one of these duplicate dwellings was a gleaming man-sized metal object, a cross between a torpedo and a casket, seated on a undertaker's folding metal carrier and bathed in blue light. A prototypical cryocapsule--a container for the deep-frozen remains of a human who would one day be raised into new life. Rock music pulsed over loud-speakers (The Doors, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and the like--this was the late '60s), and a mottled group of longhairs in sandals and cutoffs, granny dresses and bare feet swayed a little to the sound, stoned on grass and meth and god knows what and drinking sweating beers out of the can.

In nearby houses, men in beer-bellies, jeans, and muscle shirts began to emerge, first singly, and then joining in groups moving toward our mad oasis. As the circle grew tighter and perhaps menacing, Alan grabbed me and said, "Let's dance!"--twirling me around the gleaming capsule. Around we whirled, the mutter rose, when suddenly the tinkling notes of Mr. Frosty reached us and weird science, wild hippy, motorcycle worker, and distinguished author and bride alike dispersed to the curb to refresh on orange popsicles and chocolate softies.

The incidents are, as I said, legion. But, in truth they are all in Alan's books and articles. He wasted nothing...but, perhaps, at times, an open heart. I truly believe he is a literary giant. Read him.

Words and phrases, an odd twist of irony, notes of a song, and he's walking once again with me. No, he never promised me a rose garden, but he did promise eternity. (If, that is, he found it in time.)

He loved ideas. Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset, Dostoevski, Jung....He made them his and transformed them. He felt safer in the intellect, a fact that would at times alienate those who thought him arrogant or intolerant. But, in truth, it was neither. It was fear. He was so afraid. It may have been in the genes, it may have come from the uncertainty of his youth, never knowing where he would live or who would be responsible for him. In the face of near-paralytic terror, he was truly, as I tried to tell him but he never heard, a most courageous man. To have mostly thrived. To have published the quirky tender brutal murderously funny passions of his soul, as he did, was an act of sheer bravery. He did it daily.

When I think of Alan, I see him in Tucson, veering down our little dirt road, Orlando. Running, backlit. A great auk. Wings clipped. Flapping. Never to lift from earth perhaps, but leaving a great trail of memorable dust behind him.

How strange it is to think of the Immortalist in the ground. His headstone tells it all: Get me out of here. Probably conceived in utero, he first spoke these words to me when we were considering Yeats' epitaph. No cold eye on death, or life either, here. He wanted to live. And he did.

Thank you for all your love and presence during these past years. It made his passage possible.

--Peggy Harrington




Tall tattered irascible tortured blind
Aged seeing beat generation writer
My old drinking partner
My good old friend
Now the summer thunderstorms have come
To wash all but what was written
In the tracks we left of our hearts
Walking through the alleys in the Ft. Lowell dust
Between your house & mine away
--Drum Hadley




HE WASN'T KEEN on the idea of dying and so he wrote a book to make things work out right. He called it The Immortalist. I remember asking him why it was so important that people kept on living. I offered that one shot seemed enough, that life would not be worth living if you couldn't die and that I wasn't convinced that I wanted a lot of the folks I'd met around forever. He gave me a puzzled look, and said, "I didn't mean everyone would be immortal. Just my friends and I."

He was fortunate and cursed in his friends. He was with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others at ground zero of what became the Beat Generation, a circumstance which put him in a few pages of On The Road. He felt his own writing and his own personality submerged to a degree by this association. And yet, he kind of reveled in these ties and kept up the habit of seeking out and meeting interesting people all of his life. He tasted some of that pure Sandoz stuff when Timothy Leary was still passing as a Harvard academic, he collected holy monsters like the head of ITT (who later turned up in thin disguise in a book Alan wrote on psychopaths)--a world-class Hollywood dominatrix and the like. In Arizona he was connected to the Ur personalities of this desert world--a Tohono O'odham shaman, various desert rats and Edward Abbey. I'm sure the list goes on and on because Alan had a curiosity about things that beat its way out of all of his fears and twitches.

His wavering, educated voice was a lonely and welcome sound in the Sunbelt. He was always officially afraid. Once we were crossing a busy street and he darted like a rabbit. I told him he acted as if every car on the road were trying to kill him.

He said, "They are."

Alan was a kind of unflinching coward who lived into an era of absolute cowards. He traveled a long way with his demons, coming from old money and a Harvard background that seemed to war with his taste for Bohemia and jagged edges. His mother walked out on the marriage when he was young and he never really forgave her for that act. She became a legend, a woman who made her own way in Haiti in the '20s, then disappeared into the jungle green of Amazonia, surfaced in the desert and captured Seri dreams in the late '30s and early '40s, and after that married Juan Xavier, a man of power among the Tohono O'odham.

Alan traveled through other jungles and despoblados, the shadowy landscapes of the human mind peopled with psychopaths and drug users and sexual criminals. He was convinced decades ago that psychopaths were the coming thing and soon would pass for normal. Anyone who has noticed recent elections knows that Alan won that bet. He was like visiting an English club where everything seemed ordered and civilized and rational until you actually listened to him and realized that his cultivated voice was careening past all the barriers and rules and going up the same kind of Congo that so bedeviled Joseph Conrad. He could talk or write these voyages cleanly and calmly. He never much agreed with me, which, of course, was to his credit. I never had to edit his copy, just print it.

I'll miss his talk, but at least we still have his work. It's pretty much all out of print at the moment, but things have a way of changing. He believed in the word, he believed in the novel and he believed in immortality. I'll think of him as with his friends, dropping a tab, working on the next chapter, his ear keen for the crack of the whip. And looking nervous as his rational voice flows across the chaos of the room.

--Charles Bowden




ALAN HARRINGTON WAS a quirky, quixotic genius of a writer whose works, fiction and non-fiction, were always philosophical. One's view of the world was changed after reading him. He was a large, shambling man who greeted his friends with arms spread, ready to engulf them in a bear hug. His gaze was initially disconcerting because you could never quite tell where he was looking.

Alan cherished creativity. Art and artists were the coin of his realm. Before he and his wife, Peggy, separated, they presided over a literary and cultural salon the likes of which has not been seen in Tucson, before or since. Booze, good food, music and talk were the ingredients of those evenings. Alan did not suffer fools gladly, and those who attempted to dominate the conversation were soon, not so gently, put in their places. To be a bore was a crime to him. He was very generous during these evenings, drawing people out, getting them to share what Alan thought they had to offer. It was at these soirees that I met and became friends with Ed Abbey and Doug Peacock, among others. Alan rarely talked about his own work at these parties. He was content to hear the ideas and experiences of others.

I always felt that Alan deserved the sobriquet The Man Who Loved Women. He adored women, and he admitted to me that he felt more comfortable in their company rather than the company of men. He also depended on women to deal with the exigencies of daily living while he wrote. Peggy fell off the roof of their house while fixing the cooler one summer. The insurance adjuster arrived with his briefcase and papers and was processing the claim when, almost as an afterthought, he asked Alan what he was doing when Peggy fell. Alan deadpanned, "I was doing my knitting."

When Peggy left him he became almost Lear-like in his quest for love. There was a concatenation of ladies that he squired around for varying lengths of time. One of them was dismissed because she did not know the name of an author of a book that Alan thought important; others were banished for similar crimes. Alan took to calling my wife, Dee Cox, for advice in matters of the heart, and he brought lady after lady to our home for dinner. He abruptly stopped drinking when one of these women suggested that his performance in bed might be improved by abstinence.

During this period he became querulous, complaining that friends had forgotten him. My wife and I visited him one evening a few days after Christmas, and he asked if we'd like to see some pictures of a new woman he'd met. He made a few comments about how "powerful" and "strong" she was, and then produced several photos of a tough-looking woman dressed in a tight black corset that sent her tits perpendicular to her body. She had on knee-length lace-up black boots and she was brandishing a cat-o-nine-tails as she struck a menacing pose. A Dominatrix! He then told us what a thoughtful person she was, and of all his acquaintances, she was the only one to call and wish him well on Christmas Eve. I asked him how he met her, and he harrumphed like Major Hoople and said, "It's a long story." Quintessential Alan Harrington!

As Alan's creative powers waned he found great joy in teaching. He was a very shy person who could not bring himself to talk to large groups until he agreed to be a participant in a fund-raiser in Berkeley. The money raised was to go toward cryogenically preserving some brain tissue of a young murdered woman. Timothy Leary, who was a long-time friend of Alan's, was scheduled to speak among others, and a rumor was spreading that Eldridge Cleaver was going to appear.

As the crowd grew more restless, the speaker before Alan showed a film about rats whose longevity had been extended. Then it was his turn. The old immortalist stood in front of the now riotous group, gave his lecture, during the middle of which someone screamed, "Fuck immortality!" After it was over Alan said, "If I can do that, I can teach."

The love of Alan's life was Margo Burwell, who through tough love and caring, changed Alan into a kinder man. She made him happy, and for that all who loved him thank her.

We all mourn him. We all miss him.

--Tom Cox




YOU LOOK NEARLY elegant, my dear," Alan told me when I arrived at a restaurant wearing a long black skirt. That was great writing. Everyone wants to be elegant, of course, but to be appreciated also for being a ruffian, you can't beat it. It occurs to me that charm may consist of recognizing the other person and letting them know it with love. This is very similar to the novelist's skill. Real charm isn't smarmy but journalistically accurate. Especially effective if you're charming a journalist.

A critic once told Alan that way down deep he was shallow. Alan loved the line, even though it was a straight steal from Dorothy Parker, about whom the same could be said, with more justice. Genuine wit and charm are not shallow, despite the earnest strictures of the counterculture I grew up in and Alan helped invent.

The work needs no defense. What I found when I read it was that, although Alan was associated with the Beat generation of the '50s and counterculture of the '60s, his writing was classical, closer to Defoe and Fielding than to the muddy sentences and free associations of his contemporaries. If any book in the 20th century comes to mind, it's e.e. cummings' The Enormous Room, which I thought about after I read The Revelations of Dr. Modesto. I'm following this with a passage from Modesto, because it's a book that Alan gave to me and signed. Also because it's his first book and because I'm still riding on my first book and it's getting dusty on that trail. Even the copy guy at Kinko's, not to mention the famous Tucson Mountain UPS man Bob, is asking me when I'll have another. I know how hard it was for Alan, a late bloomer like myself, to get this first book of his written, and that eases my embarrassment a little. If I publish this second book that I'm working on, it will be due in large measure to Alan.

When he died, it was a loss without analog. A tall Bohemian WASP in his 70s and a short, smartass Jewish girl from New York whose idea of a great place to sleep is a sandy wash in the Pinacate desert, he and I are the same species. He taught me to appreciate my own kind of smartass, one without defenses.

Alan came into my life in an almost uncanny way the week I began writing my first novel, appearing like a very tall apparition from another world. This was the world most of us struggle unbelievably to enter, enacting strange writing rituals; not sharpening pencils, which is what everyone talks about, but living our lives, procrastinating, getting frustrated, mad, hopeless, some of us getting drunk, sometimes not being very nice to people, cleaning a lot and finally getting calm and getting there. It's hard to get there, to get into that world. A lot of blood gets spilled on the floors of writers. That's part of what we're cleaning up, and we clean it up as best we can. When I knew Alan he was no longer writing. Yet he seemed without effort to live there in that world all the time. Including when he was driving. For Alan, when I knew him, being there, being in that world, was just like breathing.

--Susan Zakin




And now, Hal saw, the Human Fly had come to the end of the line. It was time for Merko to confront his lifelong nightmare, put up or shut up, make it or not. A woman's clinging arms were reaching for him. The flesh of her lips threatened him with the feast he could not but must stomach for the sake of love.

Hal lurked at the window, aware suddenly of the scent of Merko's roses and the chill feel of the vase in his hands. Waiting to see what would happen to his brother, and therefore to him, he heard clocks. They were chiming up and down the street. Altogether, it was fifty-six o'clock.

He looked inside and saw his friend retreat from the loving girl. Merko's arms were at his sides and he seemed, like an exhausted boxer gazing upward at the clock, to be searching the walls for a way out of the punishment that was coming to him. And the girl moved after him, repeating: "Merko, I love you!" in a soft voice. At their feet the old man from the sanctuary of his dirty laundry gazed pop-eyed at this spectacle. Merko was moving toward the window, perhaps hoping to back-dive out, when Hal leaned in and whispered: "Yellow belly!"

Merko screwed his eyes shut. His features dilated in agony; he went in for the kiss, and made it.

YEARS AGO, WHEN I was reporting for the Star, I asked Timothy Leary if he felt responsible for the wreckage his counterculture baloney had created for America. His answer was a non-answer, a show of the narcissism that defined him, and now defines us all. I wished I'd asked Alan, a fellow conspirator, the same question. Where do we go from here? You guys pulled everything apart, so can you tell us how to put it back together? Alan's obit declared that he once dropped acid with Leary, and I thought, geez, what a legacy. Is that it? Getting zonked with a highly compensated professional celebrity in the name of rebellion?

I liked Alan in spite of all that, not because of it. He was a sweet man. He wrote good sentences for a bad cause, but I overlooked that. He overlooked a lot about me, too. In 1992, when I told him I'd be voting for Bush, he winced and bent in his chair as though I'd hit him with a hammer. He got himself upright again and never let his disapproval get in the way of our friendship. It takes guts to be that respectful. It's like saying, "Boy, are you ever wrong. But what the hell, you're okay anyway." I liked that about him.

I remember the look on Alan's face when he came to my wedding a few years ago. An hour before the ceremony, he walked in, his darting eyes taking in the statues, the gospel blurbs on the walls, the priests in their robes, the tuxedoes and dolled-up hair. It was a show of tradition so obviously disorienting he had to flee. I understood. But he came in the first place, to something he knew would be far beyond him. I liked that about him.

We got together at his house on Fort Lowell from time to time. He made lunch--potato salad and hot dogs. We talked about books and everything else. Our thoughts, our lives, were so different we found each other interesting, I guess. I'd drive home mulling various things he'd said, and think: Nobody else but Alan could come up with that. I liked him because of that, and because of his generosity. He always had the time. Young writers sought him out. They gave him something he needed late in life, and he gave them something they needed early in theirs. I liked him because he was so exasperatingly sensitive.

If we reunite, I'll ask him about his counterculture. But in the meantime, I'll remember his sweetness.

--Leo Banks




I KNEW ALAN for almost 20 years. Our friendship deepened during his eight-year relationship with our dear friend Margo Burwell. As Alan surrendered to dying, my wife Susana Mincks and I joined Margo, Alan's son Stephen, and other close friends in support of his final living hours.

In dying Alan embodied the highest quality of being. He was courageous. Though frightened by the mystery of dying, he never whimpered or cried out in fear. In his best form, he was not afraid to take the next step. He was full of grace, always expressing love and happiness to those who cared for him. And he did this with complete honesty and integrity. Alan fully acknowledged that the unknown was a scary place in which to venture. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked.

Alan's death was like watching the sun setting over the ocean. As the sun descends over the horizon, there is no diminishing of its brightness, no dimming, no fading. Resplendent in its glory, the sun slips over the horizon, disappearing little by little, until a flash of green signals farewell. Like the sun, Alan's spirit slipped over the edge, to the other side, without losing brightness or intensity.

Fare well, Alan.

--Stephen Baker




WHEN ALAN AND I became friends during his later years, he was fond of saying to me, "Carol, you never use one word where 33 would suffice." I intend to try surprise him with my brevity.

The author of The Immortalist discussed his unbowed ideas about dying in many of his works, but nowhere so succinctly, perhaps, as in the "The Wisdom of Motley." One of Alan's last published works, this essay appeared in Margo Burwell's 1994 laser-printed triumph Far Out West. Here Alan (who served as contributing editor of the collection) plumbs the earthly plight of Motley the Wife-Beater at the hands of Chavez County sheriff's deputies. After relegating Motley, undaunted, to his spot in the background, Alan proceeds to hog-tie every American sacred cow left standing, from piety toward domestic disputes to the Death Practices of the Capitalists.

It may have been his old-school Boston sensibilities that kept Alan from wishing, upon his demise, to be feasted on by (brethren) coyotes, as some of his earthier writer friends professed to prefer. On the other hand, he never succumbed, either, to the costly blandishments of the cryonics peddlers. This science (in Alan's "Motley" words) claims proficiency at "rolling a [person] up like an anchovy and freezing only [the] spinal cord and head" to be preserved in liquid nitrogen until the need to be "thawed" for "ultimate resurrection" arises. The fact that the rest of the body "tends to freeze unevenly anyway" leads to preserving just the head and spine for "better quality control."

"There's no such thing, really, as a proper time to die," Alan, understandably, opined in "Motley." Nor, he went on, is there a handy time to grow old. But, resigning himself to some small portion of the impermanence of youth, he added, "Try anyway--to be a joyous deteriorating dude." We all celebrate the brilliance with which he followed his own advice, as he vaulted above the aging process with muscular, and lasting, leaps of intellect, comedy, and joy.

--Carol Freundlich




[EXCERPTS FROM HARRINGTON'S WORK]

Humanity's radical wing, growing stronger by the decade, has devoted its energies for more than five hundred years not to joining the company of imagined gods but rather to overthrowing the celestial ruling class, replacing these deities and even finally becoming them. The slow-working universal solvent developed to accomplish this end has been inductive research.

Probings into every corner of knowledge carry forward the race's enduring project: to gain complete dominance (divine power) over all processes that might affect the human form. This effort represents the boldest self-assertion of our species, our supreme aggression against the death-dealing environment. Camouflaged by outward humility, what we call pure science serves as the arm of pure rebellion. It aspires to nothing less than supreme being. In theory, the race's radical wing moves ahead disinterestedly searching, but in the end--beyond the succession of limited objectives along the way--the quarry being hunted down is death.

In only one respect does the rebellion against death differ greatly from all others. Earthly plotters think they know what they are about. They can readily identify their objectives: to blow up the arsenal, overthrow the king or the system. But the plot against the gods, though race-wide, moves forward on a conscious level unshared. It evolves in each earthling's spiritual underground. To deceive celestial authority the plotters must also deceive themselves in order to dare carry on their project. In short, the drive to become immortal and divine involves such enormous hubris that the final goal has remained unnamable, revealed only a little here and there, most of the time being shrouded from the perception of the revolutionaries themselves.

As unconscious plotters, we may have shown good sense here. Perhaps we half-realized the undesirability of premature revelation. So long as, technologically, the race was in no position to do anything about death, the revolutionary goal revealed too soon would have been unbearable to contemplate. In these circumstances the creation of gods, and all superstitions based on their existence, answered a tactical need. Such superstitions have helped the species avoid summoning up the unthinkable to consciousness: that the gods' most devastating vengeance on us may take the form of a revelation that they do not exist; that no life-rescuing force exists. Hope of immortality would then have been thrown back on what were until recently our small scientific talents. Only now with the state of the medical art making our liberation from mortality at least imaginable has the thought that we can actually become gods, free of time, been permitted to surface.

--from The Immortalist (1969, 1977)




Some questionnaires ask you to turn informer on yourself. I remember one: "List Your Principal Weaknesses." My answer was: "None pertinent." I still don't have a clue as to what the psychologist who thought that one up considered the proper response. It seems to me that anyone who would hand his weaknesses on a platter to his future employer is a fool. Perhaps the company doesn't want him to admit his shortcomings, and automatically weeds out those who list them. More likely, though, he is considered cooperative and truthful. Even so, he remains a donkey who has pinned the tail on himself, for he will be helplessly categorized from the time of his hiring.

Another technique used at many corporations is that of simulated stress. The idea is that you will normally encounter certain tensions on the job; therefore, why not simulate these tensions in a mild way while you are being interviewed, and see how you will react? This sounds logical enough. Here is one developed by the military during World War II to select candidates for special missions: During the interview the examiner excuses himself and leaves the room. In his absence the phone rings. Will the candidate have the initiative to answer it? And after which ring will he pick up the phone? It was found that a man's aptitude for such missions checked out closely with his readiness to lift the receiver.

I can imagine that the simulated stress method is often effective. Yet one feels an instinctive resentment against it--even if it works. A friend at the Crystal Palace, an exceptionally able man, told me a story about being courted by a large company. They paid his expenses to cross the country for an interview, and he saw that they were pleased with him. They requested that, "as a matter of form," he sit down with a psychological test. It took him about an hour to complete the questionnaire and they asked him to wait while it was being scored.

His interviewer came back with a long face. It seemed that, amazingly enough, my friend had flunked. He couldn't imagine how it had happened. The interviewer said: "We like to be fair. Let's go through some of your answers and see what went wrong." They did, and my friend calmly justified his responses. He was about to go, when the interviewer's face lit up. "I congratulate you," he said. "We want you to come with us." He then explained that the business of flunking the test had been part of the game. It was a stress situation imposed on all candidates. My friend had in fact made a high score. "When can you start?" asked the interviewer. "Never," said my friend. "I don't want to work for anyone who cheats in the first round." Although they heaped offers on him, he didn't change his mind.

--from Life in the Crystal Palace (1959)




It was a life-and-death need to keep people at a distance, because every time he became intimate with them they stole part of him. He was growing smaller and smaller. Help! They packed him in ice. He sang all the verses of "The Star Spangled Banner," but they wouldn't let him alone. His very blood, the linings of his brain and liver, everything about him was inflamed, including his imagination. He thought a motorcycle was pursuing him.

He had visitors--the nice Mr. Purdy and Mr. Swan--but he got it into his head that they were pallbearers and shouted for them to disappear, until they did. Mr. Swan sent flowers. He sent the doctor a quartz cigarette case with a note: "There's more in it for you if you get him on his feet before September 20."

"They seem very anxious about you, dear," Aunt Mary said proudly. "They phone from Boston every day."

"Tell them," he said, "I'm going to Nebraska."

"But first you must go to Boston." She nodded brightly and replenished his ice-bag.

A rather plain girl named Rose had wept over him and gone away. But she came back on her vacation, and helped Aunt Mary with the dishes. She hung around. She left two tickets to a football game. They were all going to the game together when he got well; her girl friend's fiancé was playing in it. "Do things together," the psychiatrist had said. "Do it yourself!" he roared at her, twisting about in the bedclothes. "Easy, boy," said the doctor, needling him. He threw the covers off, but they tucked him in like a baby. They were in league with the grinning mailmen who kept his letters from reaching Dr. Modesto. Over and over again he had mailed his frantic calls for help, and there was no answer.

--from The Revelations of Dr. Modesto (1955)




What am I supposed to do

From and for Alan Harrington,
Friday, May 23, 1997-January 16, 1918

What am I supposed to do
Am I going to die or what
It takes a long time
Let's go somewhere

Are we doing the right thing
Did I give enough money

Thank you dear, yes dear
Yes dear, thank you dear
You've been wonderful to me

Where is the hallway
Are we going to the movie
Go to the airport
Toothbrush, toothbrush
Koala bear

Am I supposed to die
What are we going to do today
Where are we going today
What are we going to do with all these books

Take me away
Where do you want to go
I could take you to California
Let me go

I love you
Thank you dear

Do I have a paper
I'm not dying am I
I thought I was dying

I love you Alan
Amazing, amazing

Should we go somewhere
Should I jump out the window
You can go
Don't let me

Should we go somewhere
I will love you forever
I'm desperate
Love you
forever

Where should we go
Go somewhere
I'm desperate
Shoes on, put shoes on
Thank you, thank you dear

Let's go to a restaurant
Go somewhere
We will win
Did we do the right thing
Are we doing the right thing

Where can I go
Help me
Where can I go

Go somewhere

--Margo Burwell







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