Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Von Noshrilgram Epistle, 1983

The Von Noshrilgram Epistle, 1983 is from Alistair Avery Vogan's short story and essay collection, Beyond Good and Eviler.

It was 1975: the year The Muse first spoke to me. Or, should I say, through me. It was a Wednesday, to be precise, and a chilly, blustery fall day. Almost winter, the trees, cold and hard, held but a few brittle leaves which rattled relentlessly 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 moment! It was the beginning and I was transformed! The change was 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 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 cardigan. It was open but I was still quite hot. There was also a light breeze and the fragrance of incense from nearby Kinkakuji temple blew across a humble rice field towards me, of all people. I remember that smell. I have it now in my mind. It was thick and dry, and, as it sailed upon a crest of a capricious burst of air, my cardigan slapped against my sides as if to say “Hey Von Noshrilgram! Today’s the day!” I was but five minutes from the home of the abbot of the previously mention 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. (This sort of accident is commonplace in Japan, or I am told. We’re often in such a rush to get home, and frequently it’s dark.)
I cannot remember the words exactly. The Voice spoke in a deep knowing way with such eloquence I felt it must to be shared. It was the sound of Truth. It whispered, in a conspiratorial tone, with a disorienting sense of a familiarity:”…WOWY, YOUR HEAD… IT SUUURE IS POINTY.”

Overcome, my flip-flops stumbled upon the pink plastic pedals of the Hello Kitty 3000 TM and I zigzagged along the street for several meters. I stopped at the community information board and leaned on it as I replayed The Voice in my head. “Could this be true?” 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 botanist, wild game hunter, exotic animal trainer, humanist lecture, distinguished fire walker, writer and linguist? Still leaning, I snapped the kickstand out - not unlike Marlon Brando in The Wild Bunch.

I did not try to interpret. I simply continued to lean - mostly because my cardigan was hooked solidly to a hamlet of staples protruding from the lamppost. My forehead, pressed into the grain of the wood, I began to work at the staples anxiously.

“...WHAT?” it whispered incredulous. “IT IS... ON THE BACK, BEHIND YOUR EARS. EEEK! LOOK AT THOSE EARS!!!”

I yanked my sweater free, inadvertently removing substantial patch of wool the shape of a rectangle. I looked through it unimpressed and saw an angry little girl with a Hello KittyTM knapsack hanging menacingly from her shoulder. To her right a mob of hardened seven year-olds stared me down.

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!
I let the bicycle drop and ran...

Several Months later:

It might be clear to the reader not so inclined to the extra-ordinary that all might not have been precisely as it struck me then. Well, you are right. Indeed. We often, as humans, or what-have-you, 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. This 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 a little child!...Fly!" But fly too high and the unforgiving light of Reason melts our puny wax wings - or, informs us, in a round about way, that a toaster is not an acceptable form of transportation. And so we plunge back to the big ugly sphere where one plus one equals two: the empirical world of induction.

Certainly, there was a point when something simply clicked. A Revelation, you might say. The drapes of illusion were yanked rather viciously from my eyes, and I saw, as if for the first time. I suppose we all must have moments of folly. Sometimes these are moments that are swift and enlightening and if we are lucky, no one sees - like when your dress shirt is tucked into your underpants and the elastic wanders up to your sternum. But sometimes these moments are episodes that are followed by the necessity of medication, or sometimes, simply, 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 tried 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 sixty thousand-yen traffic ticket. Can one really double-park a collection of poultry? I suppose I should thank the Japanese police officer for pulling me out of such an obvious state of denial. (That said, I'll never wave to pedestrians from a moving vehicle with such unconditional love...)

But, my revelation! My revelation that The Muse was not The Muse, was certainly devastating! 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 it seems in fact, my Ukrainian aunt, Aunt Oogie, who appears was transmitting psychic messages while sleeping before her new thirty-six inch television. And naturally, she denies any involvement. Why my aunt aunt? Sigmund Freud would have had a field day. Yes, the ceaseless references to ten-pin bowling could 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. But 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. It seems all things Beautiful are illuminated poorly, and in the shadows we hide our longing. I guess, if you're Mr. Freud, that's probably where you'd hide your mother.
Edited by Radha Singh

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