-Scenes from a Bar Scene-
Mary Head’s a little lamb whose fleece is white as snow. But underneath her fleece she’s black as grease and thrice as slick. Her eyes are narrow slits; her tongues prodded, poisonous, and flickers through fangs that suck the souls from lost spirits.
Asbestos enters the tavern and takes a seat at a corner booth. He orders a glass of water, examines, sniffs, then sips it as though a fine wine. Mary sits seductively in a red dress, cross-legged on a bar stool. She lights a cigarette and downs a gin and tomato juice. A modestly dressed middle-aged man slides onto the stool next to Mary simultaneously signaling the bartender with an inverse nod.
“How are you doing?” He asks.
“However you’re doing Now, thanks.”
“What’s your drink?”
“I don’t identify myself with one.”
“I’m a whisky man.”
“Good for you.”
He flashes the bartender the peace sign “So, are you from around here?”
“As much as I’m from anywhere I’ve ever been.” Two whiskies slide down.
“Well, have you spent much time here or just passing through?”
“If I told you right now I’d never sleep with you, would you leave me alone?”
“I . . . guess so, yeah.” He stands.
“Do you feel alone, Whisky Man?”
“You are alone.”
“Good. Go away and deal with that until you die.”
Asbestos approaches and makes eye contact with Mary’s reflection in the bar mirror.
“What the hell are you doing?” She glares back.
“I’m testing a hypothesis. You look better from a distance.”
“You look like you look for better in the distance.”
“That may be. But I’m near-sighted, and you’re ugly, so my senses have deceived me. Name’s Asbestos.”
“An insulting, Cartesian introduction. How quaint.”
“Ah, You know the mind/body problem?”
“I’ve been wanting to tell someone, I just proved the slash is superfluous by playing piano with my eyes closed and thinking about something else.”
“No, you proved We have muscle memory.”
“Why are you talking to me again?”
“I’ve noticed shutting down flunkies in bars seems to be your contribution to the greater good. I wanted to see how it felt.”
“I’m no flunky honey, nor do I concern myself with the greater good.”
“Really? Then with what? The lesser good?”
“My own good.”
“That’s quite a few billion more selfish than the greater good.”
“And how do you suggest I benefit these billions?”
“Consideration. The Author Bertrand Russell says, We ought to pursue the general good, and when this conflicts with self-interest, self-interest ought to give way.”
“I understand the moral argument, but I can’t bring myself to care about the general good as it is an intangible concept and I am not. Besides, all human experience is subjective and so inherently selfish. Even the most supposedly selfless individual is constantly rewarded the exclusive joy of their own moral goodness. A completely selfless person would then in turn wish this joy upon someone else, but such second-hand happiness is the exclusive right of the completely selfless individual.”
“Then there are no completely selfless actions, but selflessly intended actions benefit at least two people whereas selfish actions benefit at most one. A developed sense of collective happiness is superior to any individual gain simply because it affects a greater number of people. You may be satisfied with your whisky and witty remarks, but that guy back there is now unhappy and a few more dollars in the hole.”
She lights a cigarette. I don’t like you very much.”
He takes a seat. “What a coincidence.”
Mary exhales and shakes her head. “And I like Whisky Man even less, which makes me care very little for his happiness.”
“So your preference in people is evidence enough for emotional persecution?”
“You can’t tell me you go out of your way to impart selflessness on unlikable people.”
“I’m talking with you, aren’t I?”
“Bastard. This isn’t selfless. You’ve got an agenda like everyone else.”
“Well I’ll just have to smother you with selflessness and the purest of intentions until you agree with We.”
“Cute. But all selfless actions require a selfish recipient or no one’s ready to receive what’s being given, making pure selflessness inconsistent. She smiles. “Besides, your words are hollow bouncing off these walls.”
“Words are all I’ve got and language is the messenger. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
“What if the message says to kill the messenger?”
“I’d say that’s giving Wittgenstein a slab in the face.”
“An intelligent pun. That’s rare.”
“Thank you very much.”
“It was an observation, not a compliment.”
“I meant thanks for holding back your smile. You let it loose once and I didn’t want to see it again.”
She gives a stern stare. “I’m so happy I don’t need to smile.”
“Then stop that.”
“Lying only makes you lonely.”
“I’m not lying. I’m smiling on the inside where you can’t affect me.”
“An Author once wrote that freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make. You on the other hand slave to catering custom images of how you want to seem at all times. Sitting on a stool in that tight dress that screams give it to me, but turning every guy down, because that’s your game. You speak in tongues and make everyone decipher the meaning. You analyze the effects of your expressions and withhold or create them, allowing only revised versions tailored to your liking. You lie with every fiber of your being.”
She leans in. “I only lie to other people, never to myself.”
“It’s the same thing. You lie to others and the lies control your life. You have to live the lie for them. You have to continue certain lies for some and other lies for others without crossing wires, and soon you can rarely be your uncensored self. And for what? To hide what you really think? Cowardice!”
“You want to know what I really think? I think you wanna fuck me but you’re too intellectual to get it up if We don’t philosophize first. So you hope to rip me apart here at the bar then go home and smother me with some selflessness. But I’m a virgin baby, and these legs remain crossed forever, so fuck off, I’m old enough to be your mother!”
“Yeah right, if you’re a virgin, then I’m the son of God.”
Mary takes a drink, most of which misses her lips and dribbles on her dress. Asbestos snickers and says: "The same Author wrote that consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action."
Her slitty eyes flutter and her face shrinks behind its make-up. Her voice calms. "Who are you quoting Now, Descartes or Russell?
"Let me tell you a story. One time long ago I did have sex. It was filthy. I became diseased. The man I was seeing planted a parasitic seed in my cervix that fed off my insides until it crawled out my crotch and confronted me. It was a hideous wailing beast covered in blood and I'll never forget the doctor's words as he handed it to me:
He says to me, “I’m sorry ma’am, your baby’s dying. Feeding him plant and animal life will prolong the process. But ultimately his organs will fail, his breath will cease, and his cell structures will break down to the point that he will be unrecognizable as your son, or ever being human at all.” I fight back tears. “Not all is lost though ma’am, even though his matter will change form and disperse, he will continue his physical existence by bonding his atoms to everything around him. More importantly, he will leave a psychic imprint on all animals and intelligence he comes in contact with. He will create beautiful artifacts, moments, and relationships, share experiences and ideas that will ripple the psychic evolution of humanity and greatly modify the emotions and thought-patterns of all those around him and those around them for generations thereafter. He will encounter, refine, and pass on knowledge which will be remembered and continue being passed on through others’ language and actions. His very breath will provide food, employment and entertainment for thousands of carbon synthesizing plants . . . Unfortunately, he will have to kill and eat the life out of hundreds of thousands of these plants and animals to stay alive. But I estimate he could live like this for up to a hundred years.
I cry out, “He’ll live as a parasite upon the Earth.”
And he says, “If it’s any comfort there are animals that eat plants, plants that eat animals, and animals that eat animals. There are animals that turn into plants, plants that turn into animals and things that are simultaneously plants and animals. It’s simply his responsibility to give back to existence more than he takes from it. Continued adherence to this inherent responsibility will ensure his relation to the Earth is beneficial and symbiotic, not parasitic.”
“If he has responsibilities then it follows that he has free will, right doctor?”
“Your son’s Head of a cell society. Trillions of completely independent miniscule units of life have banded together and formed a community you call your son. They make a central nervous system attached to a brain so all sensation seems singular and is given to him to figure out. He’ll likely think of himself as an unchanging individual rather than a constantly changing society. He’ll perceive the introduction and cessation of certain manifestations of nature and assume these forms come into life and pass onto death. I’m afraid he’ll deny that life is eternal because he is temporal.”
“Doctor, the utter depression he’ll feel by thinking that way…so his will is determined.”
“He’ll never be able to know one way or the other. From vacuum fluctuations in Andromeda to his decision between boxers and briefs, the moment to moment actualization of reality is based on each previous moment’s accruement of the entire Universe’s stream of complex probabilities. This stream is so contingent and necessarily incessant that it cannot be stopped even hypothetically without changing variables. Therefore on a large enough scale, he’s a dancer choreographed beyond his capacity to comprehend. But on a scale meaningful to him, he’ll always have the free will to flip a coin with any action, opinion, or decision.”
“I thought maybe there would be hope for this thing. Maybe I could help it have a meaningful existence. What’s more, maybe what I’d been searching for my whole life was to be found in its eyes. And just then it was taken from me, never to be seen again. My son was ripped from my arms and you want to fault me for living a lie?”
"I apologize. What of your husband in all this?”
She stares at the wall like it spit on her. "Not worth mentioning. His happiness makes me sick. He smiles through vicissitudes and seems slightly out of place in every situation like he’s risen above the horrid monotony of it all."
"Well, if you can put up with his happiness, he wanted me to tell you to meet him at the old library this Sunday."
Before Mary can even respond, Asbestos has left. Mary downs another drink. She swivels her stool then slurs her speech onto the guy next to her. “Have you done anything completely selfless today?”
“I don’t know. I guess not.”
“Good. Buy me a drink then go away, and bask in a new possibility.”
Asbestos breathes in the crisp evening air and follows his ears to a live music venue down the street.