The Butterfly Theorem 15: Reindeer Games
So what did Greg tell me when he finally showed up?
First of all, that I “looked like shit,” and that if this was the sort of state I was finding myself in every morning, he’d happily donate a few hours to help me take stock of my life and figure out what I was doing to lower my seizure threshold.
I told him that any discomfort I might be suffering was deliberately undertaken after a fully informed analysis of the costs and benefits. I added that I looked a damn sight better he looked, twitching and foaming at the mouth night after night during his 2L year, and damn his impudence.
Normally, I was more than capable of handling Greg, but I was so out of it that after only a few minutes in my living room he had already gotten under my skin.
“Whatever you say buddy, but my offer of assistance stands. Personally, I’ve made peace with my disability. Tonic-clonic seizures pass me by as the idle wind, Which I respect not. Just try not to fuck up your face anymore before Friday. That’s when we’re leaving for Beijing.”
My initial impulse upon receipt of this imperious statement was to go find an even larger hornet’s nest than the one I had ingested the previous night and introduce said nest into Greg’s thorax as a prelude to throwing what was left of him into the town reservoir. This would have soothed my headache and also provide a poetic method of repaying him for forcing me to sit through the dubbed version of Ninja Scroll on the grounds that “subtitles are distracting.”
Sadly, I lacked the mental energy even to verbally contest the assumption that I was going to China. I merely sat across the table in sullen silence, hoping to at least make Greg uncomfortable. At this point, I must have lost consciousness, because, by the time I realized that Greg was talking, he had gotten to the point.
“Rabbi Biele’s plan was to blend in with Lithuanian Aikido students, who had come from Vilnius to Kiev for some sort of seminar and meditation retreat. The students were scheduled to return to Lithuania after a circuitous ‘sightseeing tour’ of Ukraine. The real purpose of their trip was to transport vulnerable populations of Ukrainian Jews into Lithuania.”
Greg paused for a beat to see if my silence would break, then cheerfully plowed on.
“Beile’s cousin was a highly ranked black belt from one of those Yoshinkan derived Aikido factions that thrive in Slavic societies, and also a wealthy businessman with the resources to make the plan work. The tour we were blending in with was an annual event which meant it triggered little suspicion. By a slight alteration in the itinerary and the abandonment of a few tatami mats in Ukraine, dozens of lives were being saved by means of an almost risk-free strategy. The only catch was that anyone not wishing to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to the mounting anti-Semitism in eastern Ukraine would have to drive through Poland lying on their back, covered head to toe by a pile of tatami mats and sweaty hakama.”
My brain was attempting to wake itself up so that it could take in this flood of information and evaluate it. Unfortunately, each successive attempt to attain normal consciousness was foiled by the non-presence of certain necessary chemicals in my brain. Time and again my fevered mind put in its procurement request for the required serotonin but the only answer forthcoming was, “Sorry no Serotonin, but here’s some more Cortisol.”
The result was grouchiness, disorientation, and a gigantic headache, none of which put me in the mood to listen. I cut Greg off.
“You know, I’m no stranger to bullshit or her folksy cousin hogwash, but this is absolutely and unequivocally the most fatuous nonsense I’ve ever heard! There is no way that any of this stuff ever happened even close to the way you’re describing. The whole story is patently fantastic, self-serving, and implausible. At present, I can’t even find it in me to feel contempt for you, because I’m too busy trying to keep my sanity. I’m looking upon the quintessence of the word ‘malarkey’ as the formal concept exists in the mind of God! I hope you are more electrically conductive than you look, Greg, because a guy that goes around telling tall tales is a candidate to be struck by lightning!”
Greg’s well-rested eyes gleamed with a knowing light, “If you told me the truth about how a man of your regular habits managed to put himself into such a parlous physical state in less than 24 hours, without even leaving his apartment, would I believe you?”
“Not without more persuasion than would be worth my while,” I admitted.
“Then perhaps you’ll let me get to the part of the story that concerns you and your impending working vacation to the Orient,” Greg replied.
I grunted in annoyed acquiescence.
“Rabbi Biele and I got along very well during the trip. The man is a visionary. While he was more than capable of dealing with obstructionist skepticism of the kind you just demonstrated, what visionaries thrive on is cooperation. He welcomed me into the role of indefatigable second in command, which I fulfilled with unflagging energy and optimism. In fact, I almost got too optimistic and forgot that I was supposed to be mourning the brutal death of my interpreter. It might be my age or the seizures, but I’ve had trouble keeping my stories straight recently. I’d start writing things down, but I seem to remember that was how they got Nixon.”
Greg seemed distracted by something on the back of his hand, but as far as I could tell there was nothing there. After an awkward interval, he suddenly snapped back into his former train of thought as if nothing had happened. “Anyhow, as I was saying, when you encounter a visionary, the proper etiquette is to render cooperation and support,” he shot me a patronizing smile, “You might consider adopting that policy, towards me for example. Less naysaying, more collaboration, coordination, cooperation, and synergy. Keep the criticism constructive!”
This was the moment where Greg overplayed his hand. He could see my fatigue and was now simply bullying me as a kneejerk reaction to signs of weakness in a fellow male. I was still more or less helpless, but I vowed revenge. This would, of course, be in addition to the dangerous practical jokes I was already contemplating at his expense.
For now, all I could do was to growl through clenched teeth, “Okay, okay — I get it! This guy is the new Moses. Now for God’s sake get to the point!”
My intonation was identical to that of a middleaged wolverine, building up the resolve to gnaw his own leg off after finding himself caught in a bear trap set by proselytizing Christians rather than fur traders.
“Moses?” Greg said, paying no heed to my aggression. “…Yes, I suppose I might compare Biele to Moses. If I were a racist. I’d been thinking of him more like Xenophon leading us on an ‘Anabasis’ to the Baltic Sea.”
“Anyway, we arrived in Lithuania. Crossing the border, I immediately noticed something striking about the country. Namely that Lithuania kicks ass! It fucking does! Everything about the landscape is so clean and clear and pure! Every body of water looked eminently drinkable. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing mud. I mean, I grew up in South Carolina — tannin central. There, you’d be lucky to find a body of water you could get a boat onto without wading through five feet of mud, and if you try to go swimming you end up covered with weeds. Lithuania is full of the kind of lakes and rivers you can throw your fully clothed wife or girlfriend into as a drunken display of virility, and pull her out laughing. That’s the kind of thing that goes right to the heart of what ‘quality of life’ means, and it never gets old. Wife tossing vies with basketball as the Lithuanian national sport. A healthy Lithuanian woman under the age of forty can look forward to being thrown into a lake two or three times a week during the summer months, each time coming out wearing cleaner clothes than she went in with. Then there’s the countless miles of green grass and majestic trees, the historic towns and the castles, and the amber mines. Hell, I could go on forever.”
“I don’t doubt your ability to continue talking about Lithuania but if it’s such a lovely place why didn’t you stay there?” I interjected.
“Because,” said Greg, “I owe these people a debt. As the indebted party, nobility obliges me to repay my benefactors in the form of their choosing. The Lithuanian people’s choice of currency? Classical Chinese kungfu.”
“So you promised to introduce them to Si Aoguang, and “hiring” me is really just a euphemism for “paying” me to give you an introduction?” I asked.
Greg grinned triumphantly at not having to actually ask for what he wanted. Then he pretended to smell for the first time something which he must have noticed moments ago when I sighed in frustration.
“You’ve been playing reindeer games!” He said “The Amanita is all over your breath. How long ago did you take it? If you’re not going to remember this conversation, perhaps I should leave and come back”
This would have been an excellent time to tell him to go away, but I fell into the trap of being too quick to defend myself. “Don’t worry, it was over eight hours ago. This stuff tastes like moldy licorice, how on earth did you eat so much of it?”
Greg’s eyes took on a nostalgic gleam. He was enjoying the memory of being even more insane than he was at present. “Did you not like playing Santa Clause?” He asked “It gets better with practice. After my body adjusted to the potion I could walk around with the stuff in my system” Something about his altered effect resonated with me and turned the dull ache in my skull into the high-frequency hum of shared consciousness. The deep connection shared by people who’ve taken the same drug and thus been let in on the same Joke. Greg continued: “Once I could walk with the stuff, I used to go down to the park at night. I’d bring a jar of my Urine and the deer used to walk up and lap it up out of my hand.” We were both vibrating now, sharing a collective flashback. The room was full of Amanita mist, and it was clear to me why Yakut Shaman would share this drug prior to communicating the secret mythology of their tribe.
The mist was thickening and twisting into the shape of Greg’s story as he spoke. I was seeing what he was telling. “I don’t know how deer feel about drinking piss, I guess it’s got salt in it and other minerals. But when I was under, they wanted it so bad they weren’t scared of me, and they didn’t want salt they wanted, the active ingredient, the muscimol.”
I knew it was true. His words were coming from far away like a man reaching within himself to sort out fragments of memory from the dust of forgotten dreams. “I’d walk down the path and stand at the edge of the woods, and they’ ed come to take turns drinking from the jar. I remember thinking they were too civilized for deer, too orderly for animals. But they didn’t look like animals they looked like.” I started to see what the deer looked like, and what Greg looked like when we were twisted up in the same smoke. The combination of something I didn’t want to see and something I didn’t want to become gave me the adrenaline I needed to interrupt his monologue.
“Stop!” I yelled in an embarrassingly urgent tone. The humming stopped and the smoke receded. Greg broke off, satisfied with having found a way to bring me off balance.
“Sorry,” He said, “It’s a shaman’s job to initiate people into the spirit world, but my current job description is “matchmaker”. My friends desire the honor of giving Master Si a present.”