Nothing Dies – Part 2 – k

“Hi Art. Can you hang out awhile? I have some calls to make.”

A young Latino man I have never seen before offers me a Coke.

I relax into the soft leather couch.

The studio is geared for mass production on Keith’s hand-made scale. Everything is within arm’s reach – markers, brushes, paint, paper, vinyl, rags, and buckets of water. There are more than a dozen painted vases on the shelf. Some are covered with subtle geometric characters, tightly locked into repetitive patterns. Others are festooned with bright strokes of calligraphy. The ambiguous shapes form symbols that look like combinations of inscrutable letters, numbers and figures.

Beside a little red maquette for a sculpture ready to be sent to Lippincott for fabrication, a pile of shiny prints forms a foot-high stack on the floor. The walls are alive with rows of brilliant red, yellow, blue and green paintings.

I consider how far he has come in a few short years. His Broome Street studio was dark and cluttered. This new place on Broadway is spectacular in every way – from the plush furniture to the glassed-in offices and entranceway.

After a few minutes he hangs up for the last time. Then he tells two assistants he doesn’t want to be disturbed and joins me on the couch.

“I’m too busy.”

This is how he starts most conversations these days.

“You’re in charge of that, you know.”

“Yeah. It’s just that all these projects right now are important. I know they’re getting in the way of our meetings and I’m sorry about that, but…”

“It’s OK, Keith. The project is…up there in the air somewhere. It’s a mental connection. It goes on. Have you noticed that?”

“I’ve been thinking about when you said you stopped believing in the real world. I talked to Timothy Leary about it. He remembers you.”

“Yeah. In college, I was writing to Richard Alpert – Baba Ram Dass. He worked with Leary at Harvard and then Millbrook. Anyway, through Alpert, I got in touch with Leary and eventually got him to visit Gettysburg College. He gave a talk and debated another professor. We were this group of beatniks and hippies gathered around in front. After the lecture, he came outside and joined us on the lawn. People were tripping – it was a beautiful day. The other students acted like a flying saucer had landed. After that, I saw him again in San Francisco – Golden Gate Park during the Summer of Love.”

“Cool. I think you’re right about the real world.”

“Yeah. You have to live in it but there’s no reason to believe in it. It’s the last religion. Even atheists believe in the real world.”

“It always seemed to me that we make up our own reality as we go. Nobody notices.”

“Until it gets strange or you’re dreaming…or dying.”

“When I died it was unreal. Then I thought…but it’s natural.”

I am looking into his eyes, yet he is no longer here.

A Jamaican street kid who’s been blowing smoke rings into the ceiling fan looks over and smiles.

“See a ghost, mon?”

Gold encircling his neck and a glint in his eye are my last memories.

An eternity later, a young Latino man offers me a Coke.

I relax into the soft leather couch.

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – j

I am able to see things from both inside and outside of the dream. Scenes shift. The velocity of consciousness quickens. Optical passageways illuminate the dark mind-space within. Cool air and hot blood collide in my lungs. Drumbeats sound in my chest. I am conscious within a pulsating chamber of flesh.

I see the searing suns of the Milky Way collapse into a vortex of interstellar emptiness and in the same instant I see a cosmos emerge from energetic emptiness.

A high-pitched sound reverberates. I do not hear it so much as feel it on the periphery of my awareness. Soon, it is painful and overwhelming.

Still reluctant, I wake up and answer the phone.

“Art, I called a few times. Did you get my message?”

“I crashed man. I’ve been asleep since I got home.

“Oh, too bad. William Burroughs invited me to dinner. I tried to get hold of you. He has this amazing mind… We talked about art and writing and philosophy. You should have been there.”

“That’s cool, thanks for thinking of me, Keith. I always thought his stuff was kind of negative.”

“He’s a sweet man, really kind. He was so nice to me. I felt an instant bond with him. His work is just…you know…his work. I think he’s trying to wake people up.”

“No doubt. So yeah, man, that was a strange trip today, wasn’t it?”

“What happened?”

“When we drove up here…all of that…leaving the car on the side of the road… the cave.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been in town for the last week. So have you – as far as I know. Are you OK?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m OK. Let’s get together soon. I want to talk about the project.”

“I’m going to Europe in a couple of days. Can you stop over tomorrow?”

“Sure. In the afternoon?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell Julia you’re coming over.”

“OK. See you then.”

Again…this feeling of strangeness, unreality…

I hang up the phone and am overcome with confusion. In an effort to feel in control, I trace sequentially through my memory of the day’s events. The fact that there is a sequence – or that I am convinced I can recall a continuous chain of memory linking one thing to the next – doesn’t change the sense of disorientation I feel about each bizarre occurrence. I am left with the knowledge that this has happened before and that it does continue.

I look up for a moment. The dark-haired girl in the building across the alley is undressing again. About a month after I moved in she started leaving the shades up all the time. Youthful and curvaceous, she is as beautiful as a girl in the window could possibly be. She moves like a dancer until her liquid eyes catch a fleeting glimpse of mine.

Looking away, I turn toward the screen and remember my dreams.

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – i

In and out of attentiveness, I’m daydreaming, recalling random scenes from my life – tropical islands, desert plains, country scenes of midnight skies, San Francisco, south of Market.

The streets of New York rouse me back to their insistent reality.

Keith is talking about Prehistoric art. We pass one of Jean Michel’s tags on a rusty iron beam supporting an overpass – a pointed crown and the word “Samo” scrawled in haste. He points at it and says “See that tag? Samo is like…the voice of God”.

We arrive at his place.

“OK, man. Thanks for the ride.”

I say goodbye and drive through the Lower East Side up to West 20th. There’s a space open in front of the precinct station – a safe place. I like looking out the window to see the Mustang in one piece down there.

In the loft, reviewing the day before falling off to sleep, I am burdened and inspired. Something is happening – moving me with insistent force.

Naked between gray sheets, I await my descent into the dream cave. The enfolding layers of linen feel like soft echoes of the smooth boulders surrounding that cavern at the bottom of the hill.

Behind my eyelids inner sight continues. Entoptic visions pulse with the regularity of ocean waves. I see phosphenes, staccato flashes, random spots of gold and networked streaks of shiny blue and green. Shape-shifting colors move like protozoan life.

There are spaces between the shapes. I make a conscious effort to send my imagination out to explore this evolving mindscape. Pear-green tubes sprout prickly spikes. Finely detailed rosettes and ultraviolet plumes feather out through a fine mist. I drift toward an incandescent horizon.

As surely as dark cumulonimbus presage thunderstorms, these events bring awareness of approaching dreams.

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – h

A pearl of clear water appears before my eyes – one of the occasional droplets that splash down cave walls to form rivulets and ripples made of stone.

After hundreds of years the rivulets cut channels in the limestone. After thousands of years the cave is deeply rutted with grooves. Sometimes the drops fall directly downward and deposit their microscopic loads of dissolved stone until small mineral piles grow straight up against gravity. The cave floor is alive with them – hardened gardens of ever-growing forms.

I am transfixed by this single droplet that has stopped like a dead man’s heart. I can see the entire cave reflected complete within it. The deeper I look into the tiny sphere the more I see – atavistic visions of ancient times, the first hand print on a cave wall, the long history of our species, an intelligent world – the end of the universe. I see the multicolor pointillist patterns of my art commingled with his sublimely ancient and futuristic imagery. I see everything at once.

Interconnected chambers of this cavernous place are repeated within the clear surface of the orb. The maze of tunnels is dense, yet I traverse each one in the blink of an eye. Each passage leads back to this oceanic droplet. It grows in size threatening to engulf me.

I call out to him.

The answer comes from within, “This is a dream. Just wake up.”

I can’t move…my jaw feels like it weighs ten-thousand pounds. No sound emerges from my open throat. I catch sight of him again – a reflection in a sphere. I raise my eyes and he is back. Alive again but not for long. In that moment I can see – he is dying.

A pearl of clear water appears before my eyes – it is not like the droplets that splash down cave walls to form rivulets and ripples made of stone.

This droplet is not like those at all. I look up to trace its trajectory. It did not fall from the ceiling like the other drops.

It is moving slowly, inexorably down his cheek.

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – g

“Everything exists at once. That is the essential nature of things here in the mind cave. The abstraction, called spacetime, expands to infinity and contracts again in a nanosecond. It occurs in the brain of some unnameable entity that may or may not exist. It is the first and final flash of consciousness. It is your lifetime and mine.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“Just typing this out somewhere, Keith.”

“Somewhere like your life on Earth.”

“Exactly.”

“Have to get it out there. I used to be that way.”

“I know, man.”

I write.

The attempt to rationalize all this continues – if only for the occasional reminder that I need to keep myself grounded in some kind of objective reality. Why that’s important is one of several things that are beyond me at this point. I do alright on auto-pilot.

The boundaries that used to separate one type of awareness from another have disappeared. At some point in this waking dream I begin to see all people, places and times, all forms of life and states of consciousness are present simultaneously – in an infinite moment, called “my life”.

“Hey, check this out.”

The cave walls are alive with multicolor patterns and moving images – inner visions of the human mind.

“Amazing, man. Are you seeing what I see?”

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – f

“This trip…is all there is.”

The rest of his words are drowned out by an onrush of cold air. I am swept into a vortex. Looking down to ground myself – I fix my eyes upon a single blue-green stone in an attempt to stabilize my field of vision. But I cannot focus.

Instead, I am gazing into a virtual tunnel of images. They form a shimmering cone of three-dimensional scenes stretched out to great length. Each one shows a world related in some way to this place. Starting out as pastoral landscapes, each leads from bright blue sky toward a darkening funnel of clouds far in the distance.

I scan every vista, searching for clues. They begin as vignettes, memories – moments I can identify. In one, I see myself as a child walking the path to Crystal Cave – a huge underground cavern near Kutztown and a commercial attraction. Walking with my parents, seeing things from a child’s-eye view, I can hear the muffled voices of other families behind me.

Descending into the ancient cavern, the summer heat quickly gives way to a chill as I descend for my first journey inside the planet. Everywhere around me, uncanny configurations of stalactites and stalagmites glisten in the artificial light. I have revisited this alien place over and over again in my dreams. It has become a familiar part of my mental landscape. I am not surprised to see it now.

Another scene springs up – the weather is crisp and autumnal. The place before me is Temple Cave – a rough boulder-bound series of subterranean cracks and crevasses I explored as a teenager. Known only locally, the entrance is a mere slit between rocks on a hidden hillside. As I move forward between the stones I can feel the humid atmosphere within. Once inside, there are yards of precipitous ledges to negotiate in the dark, before one can enter a space large enough to even turn around.

These visions coexist in my mind. I see them all at once. And yet, I can travel through each one individually, move around and explore. It is an experience of simultaneity – a hall of mirrors but each reflects a different time and place.

Next, I experience a night in late summer. I am with a group of amateur spelunkers – friends who have invited a few of us to explore a new cavern they’ve discovered just south of Gettysburg. The characteristic shift from the external world to the bowels of the earth is more gradual, as the entrance here is larger. The damp green moss lining the slippery clay walls at the cave mouth disappears into the rough and rugged passageway within.

After ten yards or so, there is a small opening in the stone floor. One-by-one we lower ourselves into the earth. Holding tightly to a nylon line, I slide down through a long rock-edged tunnel barely wider than my shoulders and I am blinded by utter blackness.

Even as these spaces engulf me with their overwhelming presence, I sense us both still at rest, lying on the field of grass from which we will awaken later in the day. Above, the constellations of late-summer shine like laser beams from behind a midnight sky.

These ever-changing scenes appear solid and palpable, yet they are strangely transparent. They seem to rotate within my cone of vision, each one juxtaposed upon the other. It is as if I am enclosed inside a vast crystalline structure, sphere upon sphere, encasing the myriad moments of my life as internal reflections within some incomprehensible mind. And in that mind my dreams are real.

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Nothing Dies – Part 2 – e

I wake up on the grass. A brilliant sun is in the eastern sky. Allover patterns remain in my eyes and over everything I see. I feel a cool mist upon my face and hands. It sparkles everywhere in this green valley.

He is beside me, sleeping still. I recall only the tropical place and the moment we silently agreed to revisit the cave. My mind strains to make sense of what I am experiencing.

He stirs.

“Keith.”

“Art…I guess we fell asleep.”

Smiling, he looks around and says it is morning and we must have slept all night. I find the thought strangely soothing. The way he acts and the clarity of his statements create a sense of reality, of normalcy, in me.

And then, I feel a sense of panic.

“Oh man. That means the car was on the side of the road all night. I didn’t lock it when we stopped!”

He grins as I run back through the brightening woods to check. There, about 10-feet off the roadway I see the copper color of the Mustang and feel calm. I reach the car. It is shining, studded with dewdrops.

He has followed me back here.

“Everything’s OK, right?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

“So let’s go check out the cave,” he says.

My tongue feels so thick I can barely speak. The sound of each faltering word echoes in my head.

“Keith. Do you know what’s going on? What kind of reality is this, man? Are you really here?

“Why does all that still matter to you, Art?”

I see him standing just a few feet in front of me yet he speaks as a disembodied voice.

“Just stop trying to make sense of everything.”

I can’t let it go. “Can we just talk about this for a minute?”

“We’ve been talking about it for hours. Look at the tape.”

There, on the hood of the car, is a micro-cassette player. The tape is pegged at the stop position with the full 90 minutes of recording time expended. He tells me that the tape ran out over an hour ago.

The dew has disappeared and the mid afternoon sun is on our backs. I have no idea what has occurred in the past hours. This analog tape recorder is from the 1980s. It is the little Panasonic I used to record our dialogs. But that was thirty years ago. I use a digital recorder, not this ancient relic.

“…this ancient relic…” I hear the words repeated as echoing sounds in my head. The words collide, reverberate and…slow…down. Time stops.

Shifting memories swirl through me. I experience, in an instant, a concatenation of moments, once discrete, separated by decades, but flooding me in a tide of recall. I strain to arrange them in some sequence so that I may study them, see them in some chain of causality – to have something make sense.

“Wait a minute. Listen. We’re on our way back to the city, right? You want me to pullover. We stop, park on the side of the road, and stand by that fence over there. I look at you and see you looking back at me. OK? After that though, it’s just flashes, scenes in my mind. Like a dream. And anyway…this trip…the whole thing – it happened a long time ago.”

He does not respond. For an instant, he stands silent, as if frozen in place. Then, from somewhere else, I hear his voice as though it is coming toward me fast and from a great distance.

“This trip…is all there is.”

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