Coming Soon: Issue #3 of the Butter Lamb News

Issue #3 of the BLRL's well-received and reviewed newsletter, The Butter Lamb News is coming soon! 

This issue features: 

  • "Front Matter" on letting references help, reader letters
  • Another installment of "Say What" offering new words and phrases (or words and phrases that are new to me)
  • A slew of reports featuring "Dictionaries and References in the News" 
  • Review and commentary on the "New Additions to the Butter Lamb Reference Library"
  • Thoughts on the lasted publications to arrive in my mailbox in "It Came from the PO Box!"
  • And, of course, another installment of "The Last Word."

And did I mention that this is the biggest installment of the BLN yet? Specs: 32 legal-sized digest (7 x 8.5) pages.

Best of all, you can get a copy for free! All you need to do is request one by email or send a letter to the BLRL (see the "about" page for the BLRL's address).

Guy Verbose: Episode 3 - The Big Fraud

 It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries. But on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words: Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographical Private Eye 

 

Episode 3: The Big Fraud

I typically don't remember my dreams, which is probably for the best since I lead a pretty dull life. But on this morning, when I opened my eyes I had a distinct memory that I attended a funeral for a friend of Charles Bukowski.

The ceremony took place in a rundown bookstore that shared a wall with an equally run-down diner. There was an opening in the wall so that patrons of each business could go back and forth and they did. A lot of the people in the diner were reading books, and I saw a few people from the diner wander over to the bookstore after they paid for their meals. It was a nice arrangement.

I got to the funeral late and when I spotted Bukowski among the crowd of mourners, I went up and asked how he was doing. In lieu of an answer, he responded to my question with one of his own.

"How' d you know Jimmy?" he asked.

“I didn't," I said. “But I knew he was a friend of yours. I knew you'd be here, so I thought I'd check in and see how you were doing."

Bukowski looked me dead in the eye, gauging my sincerity, and then exhaled cloud of cigarette smoke that enveloped us both.

As the smoke cleared, my eyes drifted up to a video memorial playing on a 1970’s-era black-and-white television suspended from the ceiling. The video showed a series of pictures from the deceased’s life, most of which were candid shots of men in slacks with cigarettes in their mouths and a beer in hand.

After what seemed like a long time, Bukowski turned to me and asked, “Do I know you?”

“What do you mean? Of course you do." I said with a tinge of embarrassment. “Don’t you remember? We used to sit at that table right over there against the wall. We’d drink the shitty coffee they serve here and talk about books.”

Before he could answer, a man sitting at a booth in the diner waved Bukowski over.

“I’ll be right back,” he said as he emitted another cloud of smoke.

“Cool,” I said, but I knew he was done with me.

Standing there alone, a fish out of water, I was forced to admit I didn’t know Bukowski and that we'd never hung out here or anywhere else. I read about the funeral in the newspaper. Somehow, I knew Bukowski and the deceased were friends, so I decided to show up so I could be seen with Bukowski and bask in the reflected glow of his fame and credibility. Why I tried to fool him, or even thought that I could, I couldn't say. I didn't think I was the kind of person who did this sort of thing. Realizing I was made me feel lousy.

Suddenly, the dream shifted and I found myself supine on a worn pleather loveseat in the lobby of a dingy hotel. There were no tables or bookshelves, but I knew it was the same building that housed the bookstore/diner.

A blanket was draped over the lower part of my body, which told me I'd been sleeping there. I was grateful to have the blanket because I wasn't wearing any pants.

A toothless and wrinkled old woman sat in a lounge chair nearby. She was wearing a dirty nightgown and shower cap, and smoking. Without asking, I grabbed her matches and used one to light the cigarette I just rolled. The cigarette paper was too thick and I couldn't get the seal to adhere. I licked it a few more times and lit it anyway. I got only a few puffs before it began to unravel and shards of tobacco ended up in my mouth.

The television—the same one from the bookstore/diner—was showing a movie starring Al Pacino. Pacino was playing a grizzled detective and, at the moment, someone off-screen was shooting at him.

“That Pacino…,” yelled the old woman to no one in particular. “Who the hell does he think he is?”

I nodded approvingly, although I'm not sure why. I wasn't familiar with the movie and I didn't really care about it because I had bigger problems, like how to get  my pants back on without anyone noticing. Then it dawned on me that I didn't smoke and that the shards of tobacco in my mouth tasted awful.

 

*           *          *

 

I have five dream dictionaries in my possession and not one has anything to say about the meaning of dreams in which you try to befriend a famous writer. They do, however, offer a few words on dream-based deception. The best of the lot—Theresa Cheung’s Dream Dictionary from A to Z—opines: “If you find yourself lying or cheating in your dream, or you hear someone else doing so, this indicates that you’re feeling guilty about not being honest in your waking life.”

It's a similar story regarding underwear.

Generally, underwear in a dream is though to be a symbol of your hidden attitudes and prejudices. If you dream of feeling embarrassed about being seen in your underwear, it may suggest an unwillingness to reveal your true feelings, or have your opinions made public.

The book goes on to say that dreams of being naked or inappropriately dressed, “involve feelings of exposure and vulnerability, and often include an element of embarrassment or shame.”

So, what am feeling guilty or not being honest about in my waking life? What feelings am I hiding? What am I embarrassed about? Before I answer that, it’s important to note that, according to Cheung, dreams are not to be taken literally.

You need to do a bit of detective work to get to the real message. Just because you dream that a friend is dying does not mean that he or she will die, but rather that they are going through a period of enormous change. In fact, interpreting dreams literally can be harmful. You have your own set of unique dream images and symbols. If you love dogs, what a dog means to you and what a dog means to someone who can’t stand dogs will be different. Always bear in mind that your dream symbols are unique to you.

For me, Charles Bukowski is a figure of authenticity. He was a drunk, a womanizer, and he probably had a host of other distasteful qualities I’m not even aware of and wouldn’t want to possess, but he was committed to his craft. He gave everything he had to writing and he didn’t let anything get in the way. I admire that. I wanted to do the same but didn't have the guts. Instead of going where I wanted, I went where I thought I should. I took the path most obvious and have paid for it ever since in dumb jobs and self-loathing. 

No wonder I smoked in my dream. I don’t smoke in my waking life, so the fact that I tried and failed in the night-world is (I assume) a reflection of my attempts to fit in and do the things everyone else does, even though my heart's not in it.

It's a similar story with my dream-state anxiety about being seen in my underwear, a classic metaphor for not wanting to be seen for who I really am--a sell out writer who isn't committed to the craft, hasn’t given it his all, and hasn’t really risked anything. Great art comes from people who've put it on the line. I haven't, so I'm probably going to end up a nobody, like the unnamed guy in the casket, or worse, a lost soul running out the clock in some god-forsaken room, yelling at the tv.

Granted, now that I've taken this terrifying trip though my subconscious I'm hopeful that I'll do something about it, that I'll start taking the creative impulse to write seriously and get the guts to take a god-damned risk or two. Then again, if past behavior is any indication of future performance, I probably won't. I'm not the kind of person who does this sort of thing. Realizing that has made me feel lousy.

New to the BLRL: The Future Dictionary of America

The Future Dictionary of America

Various authors/editors (2004)

 

I'm going to be honest with you: I have no idea how to write about this book, as it's not your run-of-the-mill dictionary. In brief, the book contains hundreds of words (some already in circulation, some newly minted) by a sizeable list of contemporary writers in the McSweeny's orbit. The book was published in 2004 "to benefit progressive causes in the 2004 election," which means it leans liberal and to the left. That's not my perspective. As it says at the beginning of the book's introductory note:

 

This dictionary was conceived as a way for a great number of American writers and artists to voice their displeasure with their current political leadership, and to collectively imagine a brighter future…. Thus, all proceeds from the sales of this dictionary go directly to groups expressing their outrage over the Bush Administration's assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of Church and State, a woman's right to choose, clean air, and every other good idea this country has ever had.

 

The other thing that makes this book interesting, aside from it's peculiar mix of new and existing words and phrases, is the authors'/editors' proclamation of language's importance in the age of YouTube, with its influencers and cat videos, and their awareness that, while publishing a dictionary in the 21st century might be something of an anachronistic approach to consciousness raising, it's the anti-literate who are most at risk.

     I won't say any more. I can't. This book is just something that has to be held and leafed through and absorbed to be fully understood. Ironically, attempting to its encapsulate its essence in mere words falls short. I will, however, leave you with the following excerpt from the book's front matter, which appears under the heading, "Does Our 2Ist-Century World Need Such a Dictionary?"

 

With the advent of telepathy and other forms of direct comprehension, many have questioned the relevance of this book. Indeed, in an age when mental transmission has replaced articulation as the primary form of expression for fully three-quarters of America's eleven billion citizens, it is often thought (and by extension said, to everyone) that a dictionary that remains rooted in the descriptive tradition, carefully cataloging the words of our age as they emerge and attempting to establish a standard set of spellings and usages, is essentially obsolete, its editors engaged in a wasted effort. It is the belief of the editors of this edition that such ideas arise out of the minds of idiots, or alien infiltrators.

     In this, the sixth edition since 2016, we offer the reader an array of new and useful terms. While the average dictionary user is most likely a student, a time traveler, or an aficionado of historical reenactment, our intended audience is much wider. Those who maintain a professional interest in understanding the English of our day will find a great resource here, but so shall every other man, woman, or genetically-enhanced/sentient plant who wishes to look. Language remains an essential element of modern life; those who ignore its importance, who view it as a curiosity, relegated to the past along with poverty and gravity, simply persist in living In ignorance. In darkness. They too will learn.


    
For those who have not retreated to customized dimensions or cryogenic stasis-those who wish to engage with the world as it is now--the new terms included here offer a striking picture of our time. Many old meanings and outdated words have been excised, in order to accommodate the au courant intellect, eager to learn only the most recent developments in diction. What is left is an alphabetical adumbration of the modern era, one that reflects the concerns and ambitions of the modern human.

Note: This dictionary came with a CD featuring 20 or so "alternative" or "indie" bands. Since I got this book used, the CD that was supposed to be with it was long gone. 

Guy Verbose: Epidose 2 - The Big Stink

 It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries. But on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words: Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographic Investigator.


Episode 2 - The Big Stink

We were late for church, but for once it wasn’t my fault. Today, A and M were the laggards, even though they had been warned the night before that we were going to 8:00 am Mass and then attending the pancake breakfast to say good-bye to Fr. Mark. Obviously, they didn’t care. Against my advice, A and M are following in my footsteps and becoming night owls, and on this morning we we’re all paying for it.

L, a morning person, is the outlier. So, while the kids and I were quiet and prickly as we drove along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, she was gregarious and bubbly.

“Remember that podcast I was telling you about? This Podcast Will Kill You? They were talking about C-diff and how it can be treated with a fecal transplant,” she said.

L is somewhat new to podcasts, so whenever she finds one she likes, she brings it up in conversation—a lot. I’ve been through this before. First it was Smartest Guys in the Room, a podcast by my brother and a friend of his from high school. Then there was Smartless, with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett. Now it’s “This Podcast Will Kill You,” a show anchored by two grad students named Erin who, according to the show’s website, use it as a way to “share their love of epidemics and weird medical mysteries with the world,” all while “having a cocktail and chatting about pus and poop.”

L is a microbiologist, so the subject matter of the “This Podcast Will Kill You” is right up her test tube. 

“A what transplant?” I asked. I clearly heard her say “fecal,” but was aghast.

“A fecal transplant,” she said gleefully. She knew full well that I heard her and that the idea made my empty, early-morning stomach roil. “That’s where they give you someone else’s poop.” 

I was able to put that together on my own. Nevertheless, L was right. A fecal transplant, or in scientific terms, a “fecal microbiota transplantation,” refers to the administration of a solution of fecal matter from a healthy person into the intestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient. The aim of the procedure is to change the composition of the recipient’s gut microbiome. It is among the podcast hosts’ “all-time favorite medical interventions.”

In addition to conjuring disgusting mental images, fecal microbiota transplantation has been used to successfully treat recurring Clostridium difficile (or C-diff) infections, which have become a common problem in hospitals. The bacterium is difficult to control in institutional settings and those who develop an infection typically have a hard time getting rid of it.

“Why do they give you poop?” Asked M from the back seat.

“It must be a way for them to introduce good bacteria into your body, to help you fight the disease,” I said, flashing my superficial knowledge of human biology. I hoped the kids would be impressed, but they gave no such indication.

“Yeah. It’s a way to change someone’s microbiome,” L said.

I wasn’t sure the kids knew what a microbiome was. Chances are the people who invented the procedure didn’t know either. Fecal transplants date back to fourth century China, when physicians used it to treat of a variety of conditions including diarrhea, which is also gross. Of course, just because the procedure appears in the historical record does not mean it’s common. If it was, it likely wouldn’t have been the subject of the podcast. Still, records from more recent times indicate that doctors have used fecal enemas to treat conditions like inflammation of the colon since 1958.

 

*           *          *

 

The word feces1 has been around much longer than the procedure. Eric Patridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (which isn’t short at all) traces the word back to the Latin terms faex, which purportedly refers to “wine-lees,” or “impure residues.” The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology also links feces to faex, but defines the Latin word as “sediment” or “dregs.” As for the English usage of feces to mean excrement, Patridge says this is “of obscure origin.” So does Chambers, but the latter says the use of feces to mean poop began around 1400, when the word appeared in a translation of Lanfranc’s Science of Surgery.

 

*           *          *

 

“So, how do they give you the transplant?” I asked. “They must have to insert it in your small intestine or something. They couldn’t put it in your stomach. That would make you sick.”

“I don’t know how they do it,” L said. “I didn’t catch that. I just heard them talk about fecal transplants and I found it fascinating. Don’t you think it’s fascinating?”

“I think it’s gross,” I replied.

A and M laughed. Finally, I was getting through.

“Oh, there’s a driving school.” L said.

“What does that have to do with fecal transplants? She doesn’t have her permit … or C-diff,” I said.

“That’s how everyone does it now. You take a class right before you take the permit test so it’s all fresh in your mind. We need to find a school where we can take the course.”

I groaned in dismay.

“Don’t you think it’s a good idea?”

“No, it makes sense. I guess I’m just not ready to deal with her driving. It’s all too much.”

L laughed. I smiled. It was the best I could do. I was trying to be funny, but as the old saying goes, there’s a half-truth in every joke. How was A, the little girl who was scared of the sharks in Finding Nemo, old enough to begin driving? Too many years had gone by. Too many changes were taking place. It was too much.

Fr. Mark had been around for eight years, long enough for us become chummy with him, and contemplating his departure reminded me of just how long both he and our family have been hanging around. When we first met him, A was eight. Soon we’d be teaching her to drive, watching her graduate from high school, and sending her off to college. Then she’d be off on her own. Likewise, I was 42 when Fr. Mark first appeared behind the altar. Now I’m 50 and have an AARP membership. I don’t feel that old, but when I think about Fr. Mark’s tenure, recall the priests who said the Masses before him, and did the math, I’m reminded of how many years have passed by. Where had the time gone?

“Don’t you want your daughter to drive? Asked L.

“I think I’d rather have the fecal transplant,” I said.

 _____________________________________


Notes:

1) Oddly, there is no entry for feces in The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Morris), or the Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto). I guess the authors of these books found the inclusion of such a word in their texts to be beneath them. Ha-ha. Get it? Beneath them? Sorry....

Guy Verbose: Episode 1 - The Big Memory

It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries. But on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words: Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographic Investigator. 

 

Episode 1 - The Big Memory

It was 11:43 pm when I suddenly—and quite inexplicably—recalled my trip to see The Guru. This occurred back in 1999, or maybe it was 2000. Okay, I confess I’m not exactly sure when it happened. In fact, I don’t remember how I even found out about The Guru. As far as I recall, someone from work invited me. It was the only logical explanation.

Back then, I worked at a food cooperative in Takoma Park, Maryland. The place was staffed and frequented by all manner of weirdos—and I was one of them. There were aging hippies, punks, wiccans, astrologers, Christians, New Agers, Anarchists, Rastafarians, Buddhists, and proponents of every alternative religion, philosophy, or belief system you could think of (except, maybe, for republicans).

Anyway, it might have been Dia who tipped me off. Of all the people I worked with, she was the most into to alternative ideas and beliefs. I recall hanging out with her in the back room on a particularly slow evening when she revealed she no longer ate tofu because she considered it “too processed.” Suzanna was also a good candidate. She worked in the store’s health and beauty section and deemed herself an expert in herbal remedies. Her favorite herb was marijuana. Then again, it could have been Kairyn, who had a side gig giving astrological readings, but not to anyone she knew. She was very adamant about that. She didn’t want any preconceived notions or faded memories clouding her forecasts.

“Go see him,” Dia, or maybe Suzanna, or maybe Kairyn said. “You’ll never forget it.” They were right. It’s been 20 years and I’m still talking about it.

For the record, I didn’t want or need a guru, but after hearing about him all day at the store, my curiosity was piqued. So, I went to see if he lived up to the hype.

There was just one problem. I didn’t know who “he” was or why, out of all the places in the Greater Washington D.C.-area The Guru could go, he chose a house in Silver Spring, Maryland. That’s right, a house. Not a temple or an ashram or a hermitage, or even a church basement. A house. I guess this guy kept things easy and low key. I respected that. After all, no one who counselled people against the spiritual emptiness of material things should wrap himself in luxury. Then again, I didn’t know what this guy counselled people about.

It was Saturday afternoon when I rode my bike to the address I got from my coworker, whomever it might have been. I went alone, assuming I would see at least one of my co-workers there. I didn’t. Maybe they had already come and gone by the time I got there. Maybe they got hung up and couldn’t make it. Maybe they were fucking with me and had no intention of going at all. I couldn’t really say. What I could say was that The Guru was a quite a draw. Cars lined the entire length of the street.

I pedaled my way up the driveway and leaned my bike against the garage door near a tall shrub. The front door of the house was propped open and I walked toward it like I went to see gurus all the time. A handful of people were talking quietly on the front porch, but no one acknowledged me as I climbed the steps.

Once inside, I found myself in a large living room. Seemingly every inch of floorspace was taken by a body, so I weaved my way through the crowd toward the back of the room and I found a spot along the wall. From there I tried to make myself anonymous and take in the scene without gawking. Save for the sounds from outside drifting into the room, it was quiet. In the corner of the room sat The Guru.

If I asked you to think of a guru and then describe the image in your mind, what would you say? Would you paint a verbal picture of a thin Indian man with long hair and maybe a beard? Would he be dressed in flowing white robes? Would he be sitting on a special chair or maybe a large cushion? Would he have soft eyes and a knowing smile and seem to radiate peace and calm? Would his mere appearance make you feel better and ease whatever pain was in your heart?

The Guru in the room looked exactly like the image of a guru that formed in my mind when my coworkers began taking about him. He was an Indian man, slight, with long black but graying hair and a beard to match. He was dressed in flowing white clothes. Not a robe exactly, but a long shirt and what looked to be loose-fitting pants. His feet were bare (and clean), and he was sitting cross-legged on a large red-orange pillow. A contented half-smile shaped his mouth and his eyes offered mercy and compassion. I watched him look around the room, surveying the mass of humanity that had come to sit in his presence. Most of the people assembled were white, and if I had to guess, in their 30s or older. Of those seated on the floor, most were smiling. Some had their eyes closed. A few swayed back and forth to a song only they could hear.

As I stood along the wall, I wondered what in the fuck was going on. It all seemed so … ridiculous. What was I missing? Had all these people taken something before I arrived? I looked around the room for evidence of illicit substances—lighters, matches, small bags, plastic cups—but found nothing.

Was something going to happen? Was The Guru going to say something? Were the people sitting on the floor around him going to ask questions about attaining enlightenment? Had all of that already taken place? I couldn’t be sure, but I had an inkling that whatever was slated to happen was happening now, that this was it. I also thought that it was all bullshit, that everyone assembled there knew it was bullshit, and that they just decided to play along in the interest of the vague sense of “spirituality” that had taken over the room. Groupthink at its most transcendent.

I’d been in a situation like this before. Some years earlier, while dining on free vegetarian food at a Hare Krishna festival in Toronto, Canada, I watched a pair of devotees in robes and trademark Krishna haircuts bring out a beaten-up and very plastic-looking statue of Swami Prabhupada. As awareness of the statues’ presence spread through the crowd, festival goers dropped to the ground where they stood and began chanting. I was shocked, and perhaps clinging too tightly to some vague prohibition about graven images, embarrassed for myself and everyone else in the crowd. However, not wanting to seem contrarian or make a spectacle of myself, I joined everyone in sitting down.

To be fair, I understood why the people assembled around The Guru were smiling, for I wanted to smile too. Despite my cynicism, I have always wanted the same thing the folks the room were after. Faith. Something to believe in. The feeling that I was part of a community and that I’d found my people. A chance to let my guard down and just enjoy a moment of peace and calm. Who wouldn’t want this? I mean, have you ever really looked at the world we’ve created for ourselves? What an absurd, cut-throat, stress-filled, empty, and meaningless mess! Like the people basking in The Guru’s warm glow, I want there to be something more to this world than fast food, cheap entertainment, and a 9 to 5 job. I’ve looked for it too. I’ve dabbled in alternative religions myself—hence my attendance at that Hare Khrishna festival. I’ve also tried far-out political ideologies, submerged myself in the punk and metal music scenes, and even tried to reconnect with the Catholicism that I grew up with. Each one has come up short for one reason or another. Still, I keep searching.

I’ve been thinking lately that maybe the key to experiencing the divine is not to wait for a sign—the burning bush, the parting of the sea, the water turned into wine—but to contemplate the small wonders that surround us, the everyday yet still astounding occurrences that point to forces bigger than ourselves, but don’t require some hard-to-swallow explanation. I’m talking about nature and the complex, but elegant processes that keep it alive, the endless coming and going of human life over the eons and the advances we’ve made throughout, the sun that warms our planet and makes everything possible, and the existence of love, be it for a particular person or the entire human family. The evidence, it seems, is there, but for some reason only a small percentage of us take the time to notice. (I do not count myself among this enlightened group.)

When it comes to the Almighty, most of us look for shortcuts. The fastest route, the insider information, or the secret code that’ll let us jump ahead without doing the work. Enlightenment doesn’t work that way. It can’t be hacked or expedited by saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, or knowing the right people. The process is unique to each individual and the rate of progress depends on one’s willingness to make the effort. There is, however, a difference between bending the rules and getting a few helpful hints, between having a cheat code and benefiting from the wisdom of someone who’s been there. Like the blazes on a hiking trail, honest insight and good advice can help you get where you’re going, but you still have to take each step and bear the weight of your pack. A true spiritual leader knows this and won’t promise to get you to the promised land faster than your pace will allow. A false one will have transportation pre-arranged to get you there as soon as possible, and then take the credit for your progress. As every silver-tongued charlatan knows, the desire to believe, the hunger for an answer and the want of a prepackaged way to live that removes all the guesswork and uncertainty, never goes out of season—and it makes those all-too-eager to believe ripe for the picking.

This is what makes belief so risky. The border between wanting to believe and convincing yourself that something is true is faint and easy to cross. Faith is often portrayed as something solid and concrete, but in reality it’s not so sturdy. I recently read that faith without doubt isn’t faith. It’s certainty, and you don’t need faith in things that are certain. I like that. It leaves room for questions, for the lack of answers, and in doing so helps take some of the pressure off. It gives us something to hang on to when the parables and the teachings don’t.

The same, it seems, applies to memory. My coworkers told me I’d never forget The Guru. They didn’t say anything about whether what I remembered about him would be true.


*          *          *

As it turns out, my memory of going to see The Guru is a perfect example of paramnesia.

Paramnesia n. 1. A belief that one is recalling events or experiences that never really occurred. 2. Any disorder of memory involving misremembering rather than failing to remember, including déjà vu and jamais vu.

This definition comes from the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology and I suppose it does the job. However, a much more interesting explanation of paramnesia—and one that is more pertinent to my story here—lies in Robert J. Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary (6th edition). It reads:

Paramnesia Disturbance of memory in which real facts and phantasies are confused. Thus, the patient is unable to tell whether he or she had dreamed or actually experienced that of which he or she has given an account. Paramnesia is a common phenomenon in dreams, and in the schizophrenias where it often appears as false recognition such as déjà fait or déjà vu. Such paramnesia may also occur in the normal person. [Emphasis mine]

 *          *          *

Still, I had to be sure. To find out if anyone else remembered The Guru, I reached out to my friend Quin, the only person I still talk to from those days, and asked if he remembered hearing about or going to see The Guru. Quin was a food co-op weirdo too, and was just as tight with Dia, Suzanna, and Kairyn. Unfortunately, Quin had no memory of a guru who visited Silver Spring. This was significant. Quin and I were inseparable back then. If I went to see The Guru, he would have been right there with me.

After more mulling, I realized Quin’s inability to recall The Guru was spot-on. Quin and I worked at the food co-op in 1994–1995, but I worked at the store a second time, from 1998 to early 2000, when Quin was living in California. So, if I’m right about the timing of The Guru’s visit, then Quin couldn’t possibly have been there.

But wait, there’s more. 

I got married in 1998 and was living in College Park, Maryland, with my wife when I worked at the food co-op the second time. This is relevant because I had access to a car at this period in my life, so my days of biking to get places were over. I don’t think I even got on my bike in 1999 or 2000, but even if I did, there’s simply no way I would have pedaled from College Park to Silver Spring. I would have driven. This means I wouldn’t have been there either!

In the Matrix, Morpheus asks Neo, “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?” I’ve been pondering this question more and more as my “memory” of seeing The Guru crumbles under the weight of my investigation. My memory of that day is so vivid—The cars on the street, the people in the living room, The Guru’s clothes and face—it couldn’t have been just a dream. And yet, with no evidence to the contrary how can I prove otherwise?

I can’t. Yet, I’m reluctant to let it go. Despite the richness of my memories, I know my trip to see The Guru couldn’t have happened. And yet I find myself clinging to it. The vividness of my recollection has given me a ledge, however small, to hold on to and dangle from while I wait for the answers, or maybe the acceptance, to come.

Like the faithful who believe there’s a god watching over them who cares about their lives, I want my story of going to see The Guru to be true. However, unlike the faithful, I’m not concerned about my recollection being false or looking like an idiot for repeatedly discussing the memory of an experience that didn’t happen. I want this story to be true because it’s so bizarre. Along with fast food, cheap entertainment, and 9 to 5 jobs, the world needs more out-of-the-ordinary occurrences, more oddness, more mystery, more co-ops staffed by weirdos, and more people congregating in random suburban homes to watch a guy sit on a pillow. Thinking about these things, knowing they happen and that there’s more to this absurd, cut-throat, stress-filled, empty, and meaningless mess brings a smile to my face. And like the people who may or may not have been in that living room, I too want to smile.

 

Note: 

In the final issue of Alternative Incite (#6), I mentioned my plan to start a new magazine called Endnote, which was to be comprised of writing like this along with the usual letters, reviews, and so on. Well, I've since decided not to do that. Instead, I'll be publishing a (mostly) weekly installment of Guy Verbose on this website and maybe include one or two installments in The Butter Lamb News, which is now my sole publication.