Bad Survivalist: Andrew Farkas
The Great Indoorsman
PART THE LAST
From A Philosophy of the Indoors—The Out-of-Doors vs. Outside: In Lawrence, Kansas, a Lyft driver asks me where my accent’s from, says she’s lived lots of places, says she has a good ear for accents, says that I do a good job of covering it up, but that I definitely have one, says if I give her a moment she’ll tell me where I’m from. Since uncertainty is rampant in our lives and always has been, this opportunity might sound exciting, what with a stranger appearing who can teach me about myself, what with a stranger appearing who can dispel a bit of chaos from my world, but I already know what she’s going to say, I even know her mental processes. The answer came to her immediately. The problem—something seemed off. Oh, the word that described my accent was right there, probably glowing before her very eyes, tracer lights racing around the cursive letters, the absolutely undeniable reply, but, for reasons unknown, she feared it. It just didn’t seem right …
Her confusion may be yours too, there in the future, after you approach me, after you argue that I must’ve left the In-of-Doors at some point, after you say I must’ve enjoyed myself outside even if it was only once. It’s true, you can’t spend your entire life Indoors (no matter how hard you try). And it’s true, I have enjoyed myself outside. But just as you think you’ve won, just as you think you’ve exposed me as a fraud (like learning Thoreau made side treks into town during his Walden Pond years), I will put you in the same state of mind as my Lyft driver by saying, “But, you see, the outside is not the out-of-doors.”
There she is, the Lyft driver, looking at the glowing letters that make up the word that describes my accent, refusing to believe she’ll say that ridiculous word, knowing that she’ll absolutely say it.
There you are, looking at my baffling sentence, refusing to accept the fact that outside and out-of-doors are anything but synonyms, while simultaneously knowing they aren’t synonyms at all.
Never fear, it isn’t my goal to increase the amount of confusion in the world, so allow me to elaborate. First, I’ll leave the Lyft driver in suspense no longer, I’ll allow her to say what she’s going to say, no matter how odd it may seem, an answer that’s in full agreement with a Walgreen’s cashier in Billings, Montana, and with a guy named Manny who I run into at Harbour Lights, a bar in Lawrence: Europe. You got it, all three of them tell me I have a European accent. Manny even adds, “Yeah, that’s right. You have a European accent. I know, yeah, that’s not a thing. European accent, sure, that’s not a thing. But … you have one.”
Now, since Europe is made-up of fifty countries, many of which speak their own languages, different sections of which speak their own dialects, you might agree with an old colleague of mine who says that anyone who guesses “European” doesn’t have a good ear for accents. But I disagree. Hence, I will use the division between the outside and the out-of-doors to explain myself, and to do so allow me to call your attention to St. Petersburg, Russia. When I was there, I found it strange that I couldn’t tell the difference between the rivers and the canals. It wasn’t because they both looked like rivers; it was because they both looked manmade. Lined with perfectly cut granite and guard rails, if the water were chlorinated and littered with inner-tubes, the city could’ve been a vast waterslide park, many of which are outside, none of which are in the out-of-doors. As Hercule Poirot says in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” “Have you ever been to New York, Hastings? […] It is a beautiful city. Beautiful. There each street is at right angles to each avenue and each avenue is numbered nicely, First, Second, Third, Fourth. Man is in command there. But here, how does one live with the fact that […] nature is untidy, uncontrolled, anarchic, inefficient?” St. Petersburg has merely extended this order to the very waterways. Consequently, the outside exists in the same place as the European accent – both of them are vast liminal spaces defined by what they aren’t, rather than what they are, including the liminal space between existent and non-existent.
And so, when I say that I have enjoyed the outside before, will enjoy the outside again in the future, you shouldn’t be concerned. Instead, you should find yourself at ease because the next time you throw open your door, step over the threshold, leave the comfort of the In-of-Doors, you won’t be plagued with doubt, wracked with uncertainty because you will have heard the explanation of The Great Indoorsman, and thanks to the (questionable, even suspicious) authority granted him by his (mysterious and, come on, non-existent) European accent, you will know exactly where you are.
An excerpt from A Guide to the Indoors—Where to Stay: Up on the second floor of a Wellsburg, West Virginia, apartment building that doesn’t offer a view of Charles Street, nor its row of questionable factories or warehouses, but instead overlooks a kind of backyard made up of broken glass, busted cement, cigarette butts, random trash, and a garden of assorted unsightly plants that could be called weeds, except they’re certainly the most attractive inhabitants of that land, well up above is a one bedroom flat with smudged and beat to hell walls, one bearing a handwritten sign which reads: “I have gone in search of breakfast. If I never return, I expect there will be a week of mourning.” And, should you go for a visit, should you check-in to this magnificent wreck, you too can live like a Bohemian. For your convenience, the apartment is heated by a wall-mounted electrical element that, surprisingly, will not set the place ablaze someday, will never set the place ablaze, but will confer upon you fiery visions of imminent conflagrations, perfect imagery for later poems or stories written in a Beat style that you’ll abandon before you ever finish them; the roof has collapsed in the unit across the hall, luckily while your neighbor (whom you’ve never seen, but you have consistently heard banging around as if he couldn’t find the escape hatch into the world) was out, giving you the added benefit of wondering if your own ceiling might come tumbling down soon (now? okay, now, certainly now); the shower doesn’t work, so you have to take a bath for the first time since childhood, so you have to think about the fact that, by the end, you’re actually, although briefly, wallowing in your own filth; the toilet doesn’t work either, so you have to piss in the sink, so you have to become friends with the people who work at the deli down the street when you have to shit, though luckily said employees are more than happy to ignore anyone who comes in; the woman next door howls all night long, screaming at no one, raging about nothing real either because she’s an addict or because she’s crazy or because she’s been hired to act like an addict, to act crazy in order to inspire you to revisit your ill-conceived Beat writings; the windows don’t quite seal, so the roving band of Houdini cats will eat the donuts you found when you ventured forth and then left on the coffee table, will escape before you can ever catch them, before you ever actually know it’s them, what roving band of cats? I’ve never seen any cats, they’re right behind me, up! must’ve escaped again cuz I didn’t see anything; the lights in the stairwell and the hallway burned out so long ago no one’s sure if it’s the bulbs or the wiring or if the ancient ones who built this heap didn’t bother with illumination, meaning when you return late at night, you have to slink up the steep stairs (sometimes on all fours), then drag your hand down the wall, counting the doors, now was it four or five, did I count four or five, do I live at four or five, oh, the screaming lady, so it’s the next one. But there’s more.
If you have time for the extended package, you can enjoy the deteriorating interior, the inept maintenance man whose idea of fixing your commode is giving you the parts (some of them even for a toilet) and shrugging his shoulders, saying, “I figure you got this;” you can enjoy the panic that comes on when you realize you forgot to pay the rent one month; you can further enjoy the ironic detachment that comes on when this lack of payment continues for half a year with no repercussions; you can see what it’s like to eat food stolen from the grocery store after you lose your job; you can yawn at the unsurprising theft of your own personal property; you can marvel at the arrival of the police and the press (there’s a newspaper!), and the arrival of the obviously mobbed-up landlord who shouts, “Goddamn it! You owe me two month’s rent!” (which is hilarious because you owe him six month’s rent). All of this and more is waiting for you Indoors!
Now, if you don’t have time for the extended package, but still want the experience, you can opt for the long-distance service that will kick in after your brief visit, and subsequently you’ll be called at 3:00 a.m. and via stream-of-consciousness phone conversations you’ll get the Bohemian existence vicariously, so later in life you’ll have the parts you actually witnessed and the ones you were told about, the two fusing together in the fiery conflagration (that only exists in your mind) brought on by the heating element, burning the smudged and beat to hell walls, burning the ruinous (but surprisingly comfortable couch), burning the treacherous staircase, burning the collapsing roof, burning the extending and contracting hallway (was it four or five or maybe even three?), the last thing to go being a sign, possibly misremembered, that says: “I have gone in search of breakfast. If I never return, I expect there will be a week of mourning.”
I, myself, haven’t returned to the Charles Street apartment for many years. And whereas I have no evidence either way, I believe, I mean truly believe, upon my disappearance the week of mourning was not only observed, but is observed still, every year, on the anniversary of the last visit of The Great Indoorsman.
A fragment of The Indoorsiad, or The Epic of The Great Indoorsman—The Prophecy of the Great Indoorsman: In the future, at some point, you’ll ask me to go camping with you. Do not despair: it has happened before, it will happen again. When you do, when you extend to me this invitation, I will be polite, I will listen to your pitch, I will encourage you to relive your favorite memories of bucolic surroundings, of life in the out-of-doors. Ultimately, you’ll talk about getting away (as if there were anything to escape), about returning to our roots (though I was born inside), about the majesty of various mountains, about the terrifying sublimity of the jungle, about the serenity of the forest, about the brutal beauty of the desert, about the ponderous expanse of the plains, about pristine lakes, about vast oceans, about rolling rivers, about nature. In a compromise, you’ll perhaps even offer the rambunctious joy of mainstream campsites, where each lot has electrical outlets, where shower houses and bathrooms are to be found, where stores and even restaurants are nearby, where carousers sit around fires, underneath the stars, drink beer from the can, and soak it all in …
Definition of it and explanation as to why it must be absorbed: Unspecified, likely unspecifiable.
… When I appear impassive, stoical, you will say, with maximum confusion, with maximum frustration, “For goodness sakes! It’s the outdoors!” From the comfort of a temperature-controlled room, I will inform you that I have been … to the out-of-doors. It’s … it’s not for me.
Dazed, despondent, defeated, you’ll depart headed in the direction of whatever sort of nature you prefer. Will that be the end? It will not. For while you are hemmed in by that flora, while you are surrounded by that fauna, you’ll get an idea …
Nature of the idea: Epiphanic, delusional.
… “If only,” you will think, “I could formulate the right words, the proper phrases, the precise sentences, then I could convince His Indoorsiness to venture forth into nature.”
Will you succeed this time? The only reason I’m able to bring myself to tell you that you will not is because you won’t believe me. For, upon returning from your expedition, you’ll be rejuvenated, restored, revitalized, you will have been made whole by the open air, so when you step foot back into civilization, you won’t do so as a bowed and broken subject of the modern world, but as an explorer, a conqueror, the one being who can bend the will of anyone, no matter how resolute. And so, completely confident, absolutely assured, replete with resolve, in the name of nature, you will go forth and seek out the lair of The Great Indoorsman.
You’ll know where to find me.
for Maria Ortiz
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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