miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2011

Excerpt from Notebook 4: "Faith Healing, Part One"

Our university outlawed smoking in campus only recently, which comes as a surprise to most people. I guess it hasn’t fully seeped into our culture that second-hand smoke kills or whatever, but until very recently, most universities allowed in-campus smoking. Now, at certain times during the morning and early noon, the same mass of students gathers outside the campus entrances to puff away. B. is part of this group, of course; he has tried to quit innumerable times and failed. F. and A. accompany him out of solidarity, or sometimes simply to bum cigarettes from him.

This massive and timely movement of students in and out of the university did not go unnoticed and soon enough there were people passing out fliers for all sorts of things: supplementary classes, night school, plans for working abroad during summer break, the occasional free condom hand-out, and, of course, New Patricians.

To say that New Patricians is a cult would be exaggerated, but nobody is really sure of what it is. The locale itself is only a twenty-minute drive away from our school and its stylish brochures advertise vague concepts related to self-discovery and philosophical exploration. To us, the most interesting part was that these fliers were handed out by an assortment of wiry, heavily caffeinated, middle-aged women, regurgitating slogans and asking rhetorical questions out loud (“Don’t you want to know what life is really all about?”), and the boys had come to assume that New Patricians was some sort of New Age analogue to a book club; a mostly vacuous endeavor started by bored housewives.

However, we don’t have a lot going on as a group at the time. Ever since the whole fiasco with the record store girl, Weird Shit hadn’t crossed our path. So B., F. and A. decided to go and investigate this thing, if only for kicks. The following is their account of what happened, as recounted to me by A., who, as you know, is a man of few words.

On their way to Kenny’s (a small burger-and-fries place two blocks down from the university) on a Thursday afternoon, F. swiped a bunch of pamphlets about New Patricians from a bunch of different women handing them out. The recurring theme among their propaganda seemed to be “Philosophizing,” an awkward term that refers to both self-discovery and socialization more than any actual discussion about philosophy. It also advertised a meeting for newcomers on Saturday at 3:00. Apparently B. and A. groaned at the notion, assuming that it would be a boring seminar about the importance of purpose in life with some phony spirituality and hand-holding thrown in, so they were ambivalent about wasting a precious Saturday afternoon. But F. was impossible to dissuade and they eventually yielded.

I have been doing paperwork and menial tasks in a law firm of considerable prestige, and they pay me a pittance for it. I’m mostly doing it to have experience once I graduate, of course. The point is that on my way to work I’ve passed by the New Patricians building several times. It’s pretty easy to miss: an eggshell white, three-story building flanked by smaller structures on both sides, with little movement and no more than five or six cars parked outside at any given time. Then again if this really was some sort of kooky cult I wouldn’t have expected anything more flamboyant. Apparently the three guys arrived there fifteen minutes in advance; F. parked his dad’s car a block away. The place was particularly lively on that afternoon; on their way in they were greeted by mostly middle-aged, middle-to-high class people wearing “loud sweaters, white button-up shirts or sports team t-shirts, invariably.” That’s exactly how A. described it to me. I remember because I found it pretty hilarious, since A. isn’t usually the one to be passing judgment on fashion.

The guys were lead into the central building along with thirty more people or so, most of them older. Apparently they got the occasional odd stare for being students. To their surprise, the back door of the building opened to a spacious patio surrounded by tall brick walls. The place seems to be quite a bit bigger than it looks from the outside, and A. says he heard some talk about a “basement” as well. They were herded as a group to the center of the patio, standing before a platform with a podium on top. There were small tents set up on both sides of the area with members waiting behind counters; one of them had a coffee machine and the other gave out yet more information in the form of pamphlets and fliers. There was also merch; F. apparently bought a shirt, which seems very much like him.

The ensuing wait was very much like sitting around, waiting for a concert to start, and the three took cover from the sun by sitting against a far wall. There was a lot of indistinguishable chatter among older members of New Patricians; all in all A. says that there must have been some three hundred people managing the event, which is a pretty surprising turnout, I guess.

By the time someone stepped up to the podium, the afternoon was starting to cool off and the guys rejoined the crowd. Many of them were now wearing New Patricians shirts; F. was delighted and put his on as well. A. noticed that something weird happened as soon as he did. The other members seemed to suddenly and abruptly recognize his existence, as if before he had been a ghost drifting among them. An elderly woman placed a hand on his shoulder for support. He exchanged amicable glances with many of the younger members, who must have been in their late twenties, according to A.’s recollection. The two remained at the fringe, observing with morbid curiosity.

The man who took the podium had an air of regality about him, apparently, a silvery but full head of hair and a well-trimmed moustache. He wore a brown blazer and exhibited perfect poise. B. says that he had seen this man before in the paper; apparently he’s the Minister of Agriculture, or something. For university students I have to admit that we are not the most politically aware.

The next part of the story was not elaborated on by A. because he said it was “boring.” Basically, the man proceeded to give a rousing, elegant and ultimately meaningless speech on the value of the human soul and the mission statement of New Patricians which lasted for about forty-five minutes. There was periodic clapping in between statements, which turned into wild cheering towards the end. People were grabbing F. by the shoulder and using him to prop themselves up and cheer; apparently. F., always the one to humor people like that, cheered right along with them, and so progressed the afternoon. B. and A. considered ditching F. for fun while they could still make it out the front door without the stampede of followers rushing out at the same time. But ultimately they stayed, and according to A., they managed to pick up some interesting bits in the man’s speech. Mostly they were peculiar because they didn’t make much sense. Apparently the man spoke of “a precise dimensional measurement of human potential,” “the ignoble spirit of charity,” “the spiritual value of inanimate objects in our daily life,” and “a new age of adoration for the human spirit and holistic creativity.” If you’ve ever gone to one of these New Age meetings for whatever reason such baseless phrasing probably doesn’t seem strange to you, as it’s a pretty common tactic for charismatic leaders. But A. says that as the speech went on there was this weird feeling in their air, not the typical blind devotion of a fanatical cult, but a sort of intensity in the looks of everyone there. A. and B. started to feel like they didn’t belong and were being made aware of the fact, so they retreated into the building and decided to wander around for a while until the whole thing was over and F. could give them a ride home.

They snooped around for a while without anyone interfering, although the secretary at the front desk gave them a strange look a few times. Mostly they browsed the bulletin board, which had a schedule for upcoming events, all of which seemed to be seminars of a similar nature. They had strange names, though, such as “Conference on the Latest Developments in the Study of Homeopathic Interlinking with Our Animal Friends,” that’s the only one that A. managed to recite from memory. By this point I think that the two had concluded that New Patricians was just another silly pseudo-cult for people lacking direction in their lives.

The seminar finally ended amid cheering and clapping and the mass of followers stormed back into the building and towards the front exit; B. and A. waited for F. to appear. He emerged, still wearing his New Patricians t-shirt, with a mischievous glint in his eye, A. said. He told them to go back to the car because he had to show them something.

Now a block away from the building and in the safety of the car, which apparently still stunk of weed from the last hot-boxing session in the park, F. revealed the fruits of his labor: a small, black matte box padded with foam on the inside, housing an egg. According to A. it was a little bigger than a chicken egg but had the same shape and hue. F. explained that at the end of the seminar all of the newcomers had lined up in a queue in front of one of the lady assistants, who took out a large Chinese box and started handing out these eggs, one per person. There was no confusion or inquiry regarding the eggs; apparently everyone understood that this was a thing that would happen at the end of the conference. F. wasn’t the one to give up an opportunity for something as strange as that and received an egg of his own.

According to A., F. is keeping the egg in a cardboard box in his room, making sure that it is warm. I don’t think that F. knows how to properly care for an egg, or anything else that is or will become a living being. It’s been four days since their little adventure at New Patricians and it hasn’t hatched or changed in any perceptible way. This afternoon I’m going to stop by his house and see it for myself. B. says that it looks like a snake egg, and that he saw a mural in the far back depicting a vivid green serpent. I don’t think they plan on returning. Before leaving, the secretary asked them for names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses so that they could contact them with details about the next seminar, but they gave out fake info. I’m not sure of what to make of all this at the moment. I’m going to ask around to see if anyone knows anything about this whole New Patricians business.

Sincere apologies.

A number of things have conspired to drive me into a hiatus in relation to this project. Mostly things related to classes and work, but admittedly I have also been ambivalent about continuing to transcribe the "Books of Sand." However, I realize that there is a number of people out there that are interested in hearing the rest of this story, so I will continue to transcribe the stories until the entirety of the notebooks' contents have been posted in this blog. Barring any particularly hectic weekends, this blog will now update roughly three times a week with new entries; more whenever possible.

Thank you very much for continuing to read. Truly.

- L.B.