Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My First Mind Fuck

A few days ago I posted an entry in which I mentioned some of the silliest things I heard when I was a child.

Among the things I mentioned was my mother's "Is it just me or is the lightning getting lower every year?"

I suppose I felt a second or two of fear as I pondered the possibility that lightning WAS getting lower every year, but a bit of reflection made me realize that it was far more likely that my mother was nuts. That created its own fears, of course, but at least I could see her coming and take evasive action in ways that lightning didn't always allow me to.

Still, her comments about lightning intrigued me in the same way that many episodes of "The Twilight Zone" intrigued me.

One day, while talking with a neighborhood boy at the corner of Central and Fulton, I made a split second decision to see if the idea would intrigue him, too.

Which is to say that I decided to share the tiny bit of fear my mother had generated in me, blow on it a bit, and see if I could start a raging inferno.

"So, have you heard the news?" I began.

The boy - a bit younger than I was - stared at me. I had his full attention. Quite a surprise for me - and too bad for him.

"My mom says that the lightning is getting lower every year," I continued. "The heat lightning, I mean. Right now it's just flashing from cloud to cloud, but every year it's flashing lower. In five years or so, it's gonna reach ground level and we're all gonna be fried!"

The poor kid turned white.

I watched in amazement as he ran off down the street.


Who knew that a few silly words had such power?

I have no idea now who this kid may have been - I don't think I'd ever seen him before, and I have no clear idea now why I might have been on the other side of busy Central Avenue at the corner of Fulton - but he seems to have been something of a miniature Mickey Mantle. White. Male. Short blond hair. Trusting. Clueless. The 1965 edition of Compton's Encyclopedia that I recently inherited is full of 'em.

I felt kinda bad about scaring him shitless. But not as bad as I might have. I just couldn't believe that words had the power to do any real damage - certainly not any words uttered by me. If they'd struck a nerve regardless, well, that seemed to reveal a flaw in the nerve more than anything.

As luck would have it, I saw the boy again, either that same day or a day or two later. Same place. Same nice weather (which made talk of lightning seem much less real than it had when my mother had first raised the subject as flashes swept through the sky to our north). Same clothes.

As I stood calmly beneath the gently rustling leaves of the beautifully green trees, I heard his voice and turned.

"HEY!" he screamed, running towards me. The figure that had grown smaller as it had so recently retreated into the distance was now suddenly growing ominously larger as it neared.

In a matter of seconds a red, frowning face was right in front of me.

"You know what you told me about the lightning? Well, my mother says you're full of shit! The lightning isn't getting any lower! The lightning is the way it's always been!"

He was hot, sweaty, angry. Had I been his age or younger, I suppose he would have risked hitting me. Instead, he just stood there, staring at me, waiting to see if I'd apologize.

I suppose I could have apologized. I suppose I could have passed it all off as a joke.

Instead, I calmly stared off into the distance and waited a few moments before sadly looking him in the eyes and confidentially telling him almost in a whisper, "Well, I suppose that's exactly what your mother *would* say. We're just little kids. The adults all know what's going to happen, but... would YOU want to ruin the last few years of your kid's life on earth by telling him the awful thing that's coming? A thing nobody can do anything to stop?"

I think he turned even whiter than before as his eyes grew wide and he went running off back home twice as fast....

Part of me hated myself for saying these things even as I was saying them.

But I think a bigger part hated the kid for being so stupid and gullible.

The main thing I felt, though, seems to have been surprise.

Surprise over the fact that a few silly words could have such a profound impact on another human being.

Surprise that I could utter such silly words knowing full well that they were silly but others might not be able to see through my act.

Whatever pride I might have taken in my performance seems to have been rather quickly overshadowed by the broader implications.

Clearly I lived in a world in which words and truth had no necessary connection with one another.

Clearly I lived in a world in which it was hard to tell sincere insanity from insincere manipulation - and hard to tell both from honest mistakes and the honest truth.

It's a lesson I've learned again and again over the years as I've listened to countless preachers and politicians and commercials.

It seems that lightning of one sort or another is *always* getting lower every year and on the verge of destroying us.

And that many of the people knowingly making these false claims and spreading these wild fears feel less guilt about what they're doing than some young children do.

And that a significant proportion of the population will fall for these false claims again and again no matter how many times they've been revealed to be false in the past.


It seems we all get older but relatively few of us are capable of really growing up....


  1. Juicy this?
    I suppose you already know all about how Martin Luther caused the Holocaust, but I am new to internecine (Inter-nicene?) religious hatred, having been brought up Catholic to ignore all other religions as unh0ly distractions.

  2. "Who knew that a few silly words had such power?"
    Who indeed? I have long thought that in olden days the authorities would have made me a priest because they couldn't afford to have me on the outside.
    It sounds like you'd have made an effective preacher, too, with people and things being so obvious to you.