Bad Survivalist: Andrew Farkas
The Great Indoorsman
PART THE THIRD
From A Philosophy of the Indoors—The Beautiful On-Purpose and the Beautiful Accident: The waitress looks at me and frowns. She says she’s seen me before, thinks she’s seen me before, is told that she has indeed seen me before. Baffled, befuddled, the waitress asks if I live in Chicago, says she lives in Chicago, says she’s only here because it’s a job, you know? but that she wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying her, asks again if I live in Chicago, answers her own question, asks why … why do you come here.
The here she’s referring to is the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center. What I don’t tell her is that we’re two stories higher up than the observation deck. What I don’t tell her is that the drinks may be overpriced where I currently sit, but that once I pay, I do end up with a drink, whereas my admission to downstairs only gets me an elevator ride and a view. What I don’t tell her is that in this place I get the Beautiful On-Purpose, the Beautiful Accident, and the latter inside of the former, meaning even Chicagoans may find the journey to the Signature Lounge a long one, not because of the distance, since the CTA buses or trains and then the high-speed elevator will get you here lickety-split, but because the view is so beautiful that one is beguiled at every slight turn of the head, making the great golden seconds, minutes, hours go by uncounted, as you look down on the city, with its towering buildings of various architectures, with its roof-top swimming pools, with its glass and steel and cement and brick, a wholly human atmosphere, the reminder of which being the teeming and teaming hordes below, walking along the never-ending sidewalks, driving on the roads which stretch on forever through multitudinous neighborhoods, each with its own personality, as if the blocks themselves could turn into golems, could climb the exoskeleton of the John Hancock, could sit down next to you at the bar, could buy you a drink, ask you for a drink, threaten to smash a barstool across your teeth, offer to defend you, sell tickets to the fight, paint pictures of the bout, spin stories about mythical beings duking it out in the Signature Lounge over long forgotten slights, afterwards patrons swiveling slightly to gaze upon the other world, Lake Michigan, the sun reflecting off the blue, waves curling in, storms sending all of that fresh water into a white-capped tumult, the frigid winter crystalizing the lake, a transformation that reminds me of the religious language, the spiritual language outdoorsy types use to describe the wilderness, John Muir even seeing himself as a kind of prophet preaching the gospel of nature, of its vastness, of its sublimity, reminding me that Lake Michigan is nowhere near the largest body of water on earth, though it’s much more than I can ever take in, that Lake Michigan is nowhere near the oldest body of water on earth, yet it’s far older than me, will still be here when I’m gone, that all living creatures are pitted against this titanic assurance of death, and it is constantly our duty to break down any social customs, any norms, any systems that don’t help us help each other, that don’t bring us together as one people, such increasingly idyllic, idealized cerebrations being just the sort of thing modern day explorers seek when they get away from it all, though I’m having them indoors, though I’m having them while admiring Lake Michigan from 960 feet up in the air through manmade glass windows that make it seem like I’m watching a movie so wonderfully shot, you’d swear it wasn’t filmed thousands of miles from any urban center, it wasn’t edited together nowhere near here, no, you’d swear it was taking place right outside.
Because it is.
I don’t tell the waitress any of this.
Instead, I tell her I have friends in town.
She asks if they are of the invisible variety.
Instead, I say I wanted to see her again.
She doesn’t buy that either.
Instead, I finish my drink and say I’ll see her next week.
This … she believes.
An excerpt from A Guide to the Indoors—Time: In casinos, everyone knows what time it is. Sure, there are the conspiracy theories, about the carpet with the loud, disorienting patterns; about the reverberating din dominating the aural landscape; about the labyrinthine paths that somehow never lead to your destination; about the reason those pit bosses are so happy to give you free alcohol; about that extra oxygen they pump in (oh, everyone loves the oxygen, everyone loves the pumping, maybe the only known example of air porn, “You know, hyuck hyuck, what they do, they pump, boy do they pump! they pump that oxygen right on in here, they do, oh yeah they do!”); about the diabolical interior designers who, satanically inspired, nixed windows from blueprints so their cave-like creations would obfuscate the natural world from patrons, would make you forget that the sun rises, that the sun sets, that the world continues on outside; and there are the conspiracy theories about the vilest casino ploy, the great granddaddy of them all—the fact that there are no clocks, no clocks anywhere, not a single one, and you can be certain that all of these ingenious, insidious, and most importantly secret schemes are operating because every last person in a casino will tell you about them. That’s why, in the days before smartphones, with their satellite connections, with their links to atomic chronometers, those of the Indoors wore watches as a fuck you to the unseen security force, as a pointed “Save that shit for the tourists” to the nefarious powers-that-be, proving a sucker may be born every minute, but we Indoorsmen came screaming into the world knowing there’s no evidence P.T. Barnum ever spoke those words.
But if we’re all too aware that gambling dens use nefarious gambits to trick us, to coerce us into staying, why don’t we avoid them? Because part of the casino experience is knowing why the carpet’s so hideous, is knowing how to block out that din, is knowing the maze will get you there … eventually, is knowing why our drinks are free (and not particularly caring), is knowing why the air is of such high quality, is knowing why we can’t see the outdoors (and not particularly missing it), is knowing enough to wear a watch, and, most importantly, is knowing that the casino has taken the time to construct ploys that entertain us while we’re waiting for the next spin of the wheel, the next hand, the next dice roll, and has even made those schemes simultaneously believable (oh, we do love our secret knowledge) and transparent (doesn’t this bastard realize a building full of pure oxygen would explode?!). The conspiracies are so powerful because they don’t actually exist. The gamblers and the casinos therefore live in symbiosis: we know; they know we know; we know they know we know; there’s nothing to know; everyone’s happy.
Outside, there are storms in the middle of the day that can blacken the sky, in the fall and winter Daylight Savings confuses us, as do the late sunsets of summer, and during any season the weather can turn unseasonable forcing you to wonder just when any of this is happening. But here, Indoors, thanks to the casino’s conspiracies, thanks to the Indoorsmen cracking their conspiracies, thanks to this fiction both sides accept, we always know exactly what time it is.
A fragment of The Indoorsiad, or The Epic of The Great Indoorsman—The Journey: Behold, in medias res, the inauspicious beginning to our adventure, for just beyond the first bend in the Mohican River, the Lord sent out a great current, nay, so the ghost of Dick Frye (founding father of canoeing in Ohio) sent out a great current, nay, so perhaps just the stream sent out a great current, rifling our boat and us in it toward the riverbank where grew a tree diagonally over the water. Then, with me at the back, in quick succession, each canoeist became exceedingly afraid for his head, and cried out profanities to no one in particular, and made the decision to whirl to the right, which was away from the wooden fiend, thus capsizing the vessel and casting us forth into the river, as if this were a set piece in a film by Buster Keaton, praise his name!
And, lo, the slapstick hijinks were not at an end, for before the three of us could regain our bearings, we capsized the boat times innumerable whilst attempting to get back on board, which didn’t quite lead to my crewmates seeking the reason, randomly casting lots even, for whose cause this not quite evil, more like bad luck was upon us, but in hindsight it should have. I mean, come on. Seriously.
Nevertheless, the canoe was finally righted, the crew aboard (at last!) and rowing, which propelled the boat through the water of the Mohican, easily skimming along, so easily that we spoke out with great mirth, everyone to his fellow, about the oddity and, we prophesized (incorrectly), singularity of our misadventure, believing the rest of the day would be spent taking in the various trees and plants with their specific types of leaves and their colors, all of which flora assumedly having names, or, at least, would soon have names bestowed upon them when the name-givers came to realize this vegetation was anonymous; and wouldn’t that be nice, knowing the true identities of more things that stuck in the ground in the forest, a thought that warmed my wet corpse as we continued gliding, now slowly, now more quickly, now coming to a screaming halt as if the canoe had brakes similar to those on an automobile. For that is what happened. Like, really.
And it was so, when we realized the river moved on, though we stood stock-still, that we began to doubt our senses, that we began to construct curious belief systems (each to his own), that we began and quickly aborted many explanatory speeches, likely convincing onlookers, should there have been any, that we’d been granted the gift of tongues. Wha um now gah say yeah uh, were the words we used. Wha um now gah say yeah uh, came the refrain.
After this time of great ignorance, we did learn that the out-of-doors had prepared a tree (another tree) that sprouted forth from the riverbed, or, contrarily, that the out-of-doors had prepared for that tree to grow and flourish and then fall into the river to impede our progress; no matter which this second wooden fiend now lay just below the surface, two of its limbs forming a perfect canoe pincer-trap, curse the murkiness of unchlorinated water forever and ever! And so, we began rocking back and forth harder and harder to wrench ourselves away from the branches, ceasing only when we recalled our previous misadventure. Then, we tried using the oars as levers, thinking we could pry ourselves from nature’s cruel grip, to no avail. The river flowed and flowed, though we went nowhere. Finally, enraged, we rained great blows down upon our captor with the paddles, with our hands, with anything available, until we were, of course, pitched into the river and our boat, free at last! spun and sank to the bottom.
Now, did my crewmates say unto me, as we hauled the canoe up from under the water, Tell us, goddamnit, for whose cause this bad luck is upon us; what the hell do you do? Whence do you come from? Like, what country are you even from? And, for fuck’s sake, what people spawned you?
If they had, I would’ve responded, saying, I am an Indoorsman, and I fear I’ve come to where I do not belong, maybe, I dunno, accidentally, or hopefully, or something. But don’t worry, because after this I ain’t never coming back. Like, for real.
But they did not ask.
They and I with them remained silent, possibly picturing the activity of canoeing, each in our own minds, as one that involved the boat corkscrewing down any given river, regularly flinging its passengers into the water, a description I later relayed to my mother, who thence proclaimed that she would not be joining me should there be any future trips downstream.
Of course, her speech was superfluous, for there were none.
Now, were we able to right the boat, to bail out the water, to get back on board, to continue down the river? We were able. But I knew what would happen soon enough, saying as much unto my crewmates, unto the unnamed flora, unto the alien fauna, “We’re gonna end up in the river again before this is over;” thus my prophecy. Did we end up in the river again? We did. We most certainly did.
But my newfound gift for seeing the banal hereafter failed to lighten the mood.
And so, it came to pass that we reached Frye’s Landing much later than the rest of the group, a group including the very young and the very old, the ringing stories of unimpeded joy from the others supplying not the least bit of comfort, the mirth my crewmates and I exhibited earlier conspicuously absent since dripping was the only sound we gave off as we waited for it all to end. Then, not a moment too soon (perhaps, even, many moments too late), the minivan came and swallowed me up, transported me from Central to Northeast Ohio, and finally spat me out in the suburbs of Akron. In my mind, I heard the voice again, saying, “Arise, go to Mohican State Park, and commune with nature and your fellow adolescent parishioners, for your slothful wickedness brought on by the Nintendo and the television is repugnant to me,” and realized the correct answer was, “No.” Damp still, I left the out-of-doors, I left the outside, I threw open the screen that was all that stood between me and sanctuary, and at last entered my house. Though only a day had passed, it felt like many. But now I was Indoors.
I was home.
Andrew Farkas is the author of two short fiction collections, Sunsphere (BlazeVOX Books) and Self-Titled Debut (Subito Press), and a novel, The Big Red Herring (KERNPUNKT Press). He has been thrice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, including one Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XXXV and one Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013. He holds a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an MFA from the University of Alabama, an MA from the University of Tennessee, and a BA from Kent State University. He is a fiction editor for The Collagist and an Assistant Professor of English at Washburn University. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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