Out of Balance

I was fifty miles out of Poverty when the air began to get thick with particulate. The poisonous fog that glowed in the late afternoon sunlight formed the outer epidermis of the creature I had prepared myself for battle, as usual, with a description of the enemy and a role for myself as the greatest hero ever to live.

The battle plan for an inner journey is a story. And what other story would fit this day than the one I used to tell my baby girl, about "Chief and the Fog Monster?" In the inner journey, remembering the story and watching for its elements is choosing the blade that will kill the disturbance.

In that story, Chief and his family are traveling in a space ship, and they are looking for a place that will be hospitable to life. The way they know a planet is healthy is the beautiful deep green color which is the color of health. But every planet seems to have only some of this green, which is constantly under attack by a sickly, ugly green.

But they have to live somewhere, so they pick a planet even though it has the sickly green "Fog Monster." Chief has to do battle with it.

As I drove on into Poverty I thought about the nature of this monster whose skin I had penetrated as I moved on toward the Heart of the Matter. The smell of human excrement was woven into the pollution by outhouses around the shantytown shacks defining the inner epidermis. Chief swung his sword at the Fog Monster, the storyteller said to the child.

But the sword just passed right through the Fog Monster, because it wasn't solid enough to attack with a sword. Chief slashed at it and stabbed at it but all it did was say,

"Ah, Chief, have a chocolate chip cookie, and maybe a glass of milk? Sit down and take your shoes off, Chief. Take a nap."

And Chief felt himself, for the first time ever, experiencing defeat. Nothing he could do had any effect whatsoever on the Fog Monster, and he was getting sleepy and tired and it felt good to be taken care of.

But of course the story would be of no value if there was not a resolution, some possible way to escape what seems inescapable. Early in the story, Chief was teaching all the children on the space ship how to communicate directly. He would create the color in his mind and they would learn to see it when they re-membered him.

The two shades of green meant life and death, because one produced nourishment and the other poison. Purple was Chief's love for all the people, and pure white was his love for one special person. It was this pure white that saved him from the Fog Monster, because when this special person sent it to him, and he received it, it made the Fog Monster violently ill.

She vomited out Chief, and he jumped behind some boulders which concealed a small opening in the ground. He went inside, into a long and dark passage, where he could see nothing, and had to feel his way along for what seemed an eternity.

The traffic got thicker and thicker as I moved toward the center of Poverty, where I was scheduled to inspect what had been found beneath the city center. Nobody was sure what to make of it, and the only clue I had was the Fog Monster story which came to mind as I approached the alien phenomenon. Other images flashed through my mind, such as the astronauts gathered to have their photograph taken on the moon, with the Monolith.

Tempers were flashing because of the heat and heavy traffic, and young boys with guns began to shoot at each other across two lanes of traffic just ahead. Like the others, I tried to mind my own business and not get myself shot. "Greatest hero ever to live," my Ka said with sulky sarcasm.

"That's right, Ka," I said pleasantly. "The human ego, which can form itself, dissolve itself in nothingness and reform itself from memory, that's me."

"Pretentious dick," it muttered.

I had no time to banter with my Ka. I had made the exit, finally, and was on a surface street blocked off to through traffic. The City Engineer, Harry Tidge, recognized my truck and waved me over to the passageway leading to what they had discovered under the city while tunneling a subway. "I'm glad you could make it, Dan," he said, extending his hand. He had a firm grip. "I knew if anybody could figure this out, it would be ..."

"The greatest hero in the world?"

"Doesn't your Ka give you shit when you say things like that?"

"We've reached an understanding. So how far underground is this mechanism?"

"It's deep." There was a battery powered light in the elevator cage, and as we descended in relative ease and comfort I thought about Chief, groping without sight through that endless passageway, not knowing if it would ever open out into a lit chamber again.

But finally there was a speck of light, which grew larger and larger until he could see perfectly again, and then he came out into the Hall of the Ancestors. At first he thought nobody was there, although there was a circle of stones around a fire pit, where he sat to survey the scene.

Finally an old, old man looked out from behind a boulder, and then an old, old woman looked out. "We are the ancestors," they said. "Why have you come here?"

And Chief said, "The only passage back leads to the Fog Monster, and my love for my people, and especially for my family, won't let me go back that way. So I came the only other way there was, though I admit it seemed odd to me to try and get back to my Space Ship through a tunnel in the earth."

We descended for what seemed like twenty stories before the cage slowed and came to a stop beside what I can only describe as some giant temple of cast iron. It had a strange shape, though its function I could not yet determine. The base of it was massive, and across the top of it there was a groove through which ran a gigantic lever of indeterminate length.

"It's a teeter totter," Tidge said. "You've got your base, your fulcrum, and the lever extends equidistant from it, supporting two equal weights."

"How do you know they're equal."

"Because it stays in balance. If it got too much weight on one side, that side would sink and the other side would come up."

"I'll be damned. So, have you determined what it's balancing?"

"I think I have," he said. "Let's go back topside and I'll give you my take on this thing."

The marvelous hidden temple of the Mechanical Age had impressed itself on my memory perfectly. Chief came back into my mind, there in the Cave of the Ancestors, with the very, very old man and the very, very old woman. Like most bedtime stories I told, it was created spontaneously, so that I didn't know the resolution until I arrived at it.

Chief's problem was that he had to get back to the Space Ship. When he realized his energy was being sucked away by the Fog Monster, he sent the color Red, so that the rest of the group would know to take off. This planet would not provide nourishment, but death, to outsiders. It was the Old Woman who put the bag of diamonds around his neck, and told him his decision on what to do with them was his destiny.

Harry Tidge, being the City Engineer, had a big V-8 quad-cab Dodge Ram with a gumball machine on top that helped get us through the traffic, and on the road up to Overlook Point. There was the usual collection of tour busses, makeout artists and sightseers. The sun was just off the horizon, getting ready to take a dip in another hemisphere.

"Poverty extends back to the South for as far as we can see," Harry explained, sweeping one arm across the vista or ruined neighborhoods, tenement housing, bee hive apartment buildings, junkyards, and trailer parks. "The lever on the left side of the fulcrum runs underneath all of that, those millions of poor and uneducated people."

"Jesus Christ."

"Yea. Jesus Christ. And the other lever runs under that house over there."

"That one house?"

"That one house. Far as I can tell, every time that house gets bigger and heavier, another hundred thousand people move out on the other side of the fulcrum. It's one of the most amazing feats of social engineering I've ever seen."


"Because these people used to have a democratic government, and could have changed it."

"And now?"

"Now nobody is sure. By the way, the story you were telling me down at the Fulcrum, that you used to tell your child ... how did that turn out?"

"In a seemingly incongruous leap of faith, he flung the diamonds up into the blackness at the top of the chamber, and they became stars, and he was back in Space again, in the ship with his people. They still hadn't found a new home, but at least they could keep looking for a planet with a healthy shade of green."

"She liked that ending?"

"Seemed she did, yea."

Posted: Tue - May 15, 2007 at 08:20 AM