At about 10:30pm I had the urge to go get something outside of the house — as usual. So I walked down to Jumbo Chain franchise convenience, and bought a turkey sandwich, psyched they had one with no cheese that said “Best By” date tomorrow. I was gettin all the mayo on it, when I smelled something. I couldn’t believe it.
For one reason or another, I often can’t believe what I’m actually witnessing. Ten years ago, I couldn’t believe it when I read in the paper there was benzene in the street cocaine in NYC, and even though I could taste the acrid petroleum flavor running down the back of my own throat later that night, I got hung up on being amazed anyone would do that. Who would do that? Why? Well, the longer I wondered, the more coke I did, and I have the leukemia that comes with it now.
At the Jumbo Chain convenience coffee counter, between the beverage cooler wall and the mass-production cellophaned pastries, I did what I wanted: I put aside my suspicion and ate half the sandwich. Then I came home and smelled the other half again. It was a mildly fetid odor, but persistent, and after contemplation I decided it really just smelt awful and would return it tomorrow.
It astonishes me when I put something like that in my body. I have some sort of circuit disconnect between my thoughts and my actions, my needs and my decisions. I’ve known about it for many years, but in my futility I forget about it, then remember freshly again with each incident of food poisoning or gluttonous self-abuse. So even while there is a buried part of me that cries out in despair, in another way it seems like a new moment of self-discovery each time. You know the old one about alzheimer’s and new acquaintances.
This is the world of ADD, and even though I’m excited I’ll be getting treatment for it soon, I’m also ambivalent. I don’t want to stop wondering, and I’ve worked very hard to accept myself as I am until I could change, which, despite trying, I couldn’t do for thirty years. I got used to things. I don’t really think I could stop wondering, but I’m afraid of it anyway.
After finding my sandwich, I drifted around the store some more just in case, and I got a good whiff of a MegaSniff Corp. deodorizer for cars. It was a hefty cube of solid chemical. There were two flavors, a Fresh Blast or some such and “Your New Car”, which I guess is a new car… fragrance. The thing I think people don’t know is that “new car smell” is actually the toxic odor of new vinyl. Maybe when you’re a kid and your family gets a new car, your parents are all excited and they talk you into getting excited with them, and you remember the new car smell with a thrilled feeling. One way or another, most of us become acquainted with the new car smell, and the special excited feeling that goes with it rests in us waiting for someone’s branding message to connect us with product. I wonder how many people die each day from products that were sold to us using nostalgia. I saw a documentary about factory workers who produce vinyl developing all kinds of chronic diseases. So this is a known poison, like thousands of other chemical products.
Not everyone has ADD, but I don’t think I’m alone in my circuit disconnect. Don’t you have to have a disconnect if you’re going to work for a mega-corp, exploiting people’s ignorance like that? In order to form that purpose every day of your working life at MegaSniff HQ, don’t you have to imagine that the people consuming these toxic products are….. not people? Or, not people like you. So what kind of people are they? Is there more than one kind? I don’t think there is. So you have to go in there and avoid thinking how alike you and your target market are. Many achieve this by thinking most other people are stupid. Then there’s the libertarian argument: everyone makes their own choices, and no one is their brother’s keeper.
Once you’ve made this separation, the rest comes easy: It is what it is, and it doesn’t matter what it is as long as the customers buy, consume, and come back again. The trick is to give them as little value as possible while triggering some sort of liking response within them, which is what makes them come back — flavor without nutrition. What we forget is that each time we learn to do this to someone just like us, it’s just like we’re learning to do it to ourselves. And we do do it. We shop, buy, consume, go back, develop chronic diseases, just like almost everybody else.
Almost everybody else. Here’s one of the big snags: We think there’s an exception, the Real Bosses, the 0.0001%. They’re so rich they can afford full-spectrum material separateness, so it makes the illusion seem very real, but it’s still an illusion. They’re still human. You can tell, because they’re addicted to money and power, and this addiction blinds them to entire quadrants of their own emotional and spiritual being. Like some guy I know personally.
The thing that’s unique about addiction to money and power is that it doesn’t incapacitate you in the physiologically direct way that chemical substances do. Quite often Real Bosses will die with their addiction unchallenged, and this adds depth and numinosity to the illusion. So the rest of us think: hey, this separateness is real. That guy died in satin pajamas, and I can get there if I exploit enough people whom I can’t remember if they’re like me or not. When that happens enough the addiction becomes the structure of society, and there may be a sudden collapse as the addictional damage reaches a tipping point. The environment gets too heavily compromised, or the backlog of unprocessed social injustice becomes unbearable, or all of the above. Sometimes an unwise martial opponent is chosen.
From what I understand, these things happen much more often than not. It is not commonly held as a reference point for our own experience, but it can be useful to check the archaeological record once in a while. The number of discoveries is increasing all the time, of the remains of very sophisticated societies that have been reduced to hillocks under the green sward or the jungle mat. It is more common than one would think to encounter evidence of highly developed and precise technologies that we don’t understand. Computers and complex metallurgies have been uncovered, as well as a battery over a thousand years old and a 2.8 billion year old nuclear reactor. We tend to think we’re somehow special. We’re “more advanced”, and what we have will last forever. This is the refrain under grassy hillocks the world over.
As I walked up the hill returning to my apartment earlier this evening, my olfactory attention was an electric lazy susan of alternating toxic vinyl and rotted, hormone- and antibiotic-treated turkey smells, with no power-off switch. The uneaten half-sandwich was sequestered in my canvas tote bag, and the deodorizer cube was still on the store shelf, but I smelled them as if they were on a tray under my chin. Some part of me registers the corruption of Sacred Basic Being presented in the objects around me, and wants to give me a message. I just can’t….. see….. me. I think I can hear something, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem quite real.
I sometimes imagine myself chaperoning Thomas Jefferson around town, getting him acquainted with the modern lifestyle and “conveniences” that we have developed since his time. I explain things to him like disposable razors, and spark plugs. The little science of combustion engines that I understand helps him deal with the alarming experience of going from 0-60 mph in less than a minute.
It takes a while before we get to the complicated, self-annihilating psychology of the addict. He hadn’t thought of it like that. I enjoy his innocence, and spend little time thinking of what could happen to him after.