Snack Break in the Politburo

It was a dark and stormy night. David Potemkin Potamus had just been awakened by a thunderbolt loud enough to penetrate the sound shield on his nightstand and the dose of Lunesta he had taken two hours earlier. He looked at the alarm clock. 3:45 pm. Damned battery dead. What time was it? Somewhere between sundown’s finish and midnight’s broken toe. Feet on floor. Go take a leak. Don yesterday’s wardrobe. Stumble down the stairs. Into the night. Why not? Rain coming down in sheets, hell, in bedspreads, in down comforters. Scuba rain. He couldn’t see where he was going but the rain rivets pounding into every inch of him put him in trance mode, like a psychedelic shower massage. Thought began to wane. There was only the rain and the walking, rainwalking, walking rain. The Cosmic Joke was a one-liner.

The neighborhood must have passed on by. The suburbs must have receded into the distance. The narrow misses in traffic, the muggers dissuaded by the fierce calmness of a man wigged out in silent forward trajectory, the space-time continuum resonating with an assemblage point shifted just enough to skew a person onto a quantum siderail, the walking now taking place on a darkling plane, but without rain or the clashing of ignorant armies, a flat landscape on a cool cloudy day with a stiff breeze blowing.

As his vision adjusted to the land-escape onto which he had just emerged, scanning the terrain Terminator fashion, on the horizon he saw a hump, too distant to make out. This was anti-Kansas. Flat, to be sure, but somehow flatter than flat. Platonic, undifferentiated flatness. No trees, no grass, no cement, no earth, just undifferentiated archetypal flatness. No, there was what appeared to be windblown scrub, tumbleweeds perhaps. Were they there before? It was as if they had been supplied in response to a preconscious sense that undifferentiated flat was a threat in some way that could not be articulated. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. The hell you say. It feels like free fall. Thank God for the lone mound and the tumbleweeds. He was then slammed by the realization that he didn’t know where he was or why he was here, much less how he got to this place, but there was one thing that was clear -- the only thing that showed itself as qualified to be a destination was the hump in the distance. He could have stood or sat still until enlightened. But what sort of story would that have made? “He determined that he would sit beside the tumbleweed until he achieved enlightenment.” No, it was all wrong. He would have to keep getting up and moving when the tumbleweed blew. It was the Buddha’s good fortune that the Bodhi Tree stayed put. Some avatars have all the luck. This was not about that, not when the hump on the horizon was assuming the status of a calling in his mind. So he set off toward it. There was no sense of perspective as he moved, and day after day brought him only very slowly into a larger view of the strange mound. Finally he could just begin to make out that it had a mottled appearance, like cellulite, as if composed of small blobs, with slightly brownish hues puntuated by darker lines in a seemingly random assortment of angles.

Footsteps from behind? Sounded like an echo of his own suddenly. Which would be odd, because there was no surface from which sound could be reflected. The feeling of eyes on him, the reptilian brain experience of knowing that you are not alone. Continue walking, walk fast, faster, faster, try to trap it. Yes! He stopped suddenly and the echo failed to stop with precision. There was an extra step. He turned and there directly behind him was a short man in a sort of uniform, thick straight hair and moustache, with left arm slightly crooked. There was a slight smile on his lips and his eyes were small and glassy.

“Who are you?”, David asked.

“I am called Stalin,” the man replied, “but you can call me Comrade Stalin.” Considering for a moment, he said “Oh, what the hell, you can call me Koba. It’s been a long time since anyone called me by that name, so why don’t you just call me Koba.”

“But what is this place ... Koba ... and who the hell are you really, and how did I get here, and what is this all about and ...... ”

“It would be a lot easier for you not to ask too many questions just yet. First, just turn around.”

David turned, and what he saw confounded him rather more than the experience of just having exchanged words with a dead Soviet dictator. In his concentration on apprehending the source of the footsteps behind him, he had totally lost contact with the scene growing ever-closer before him. There, towering into the sky and reaching to the far expanses of his visual field was a mountain made entirely of hamburgers. Had he gone mad? No, madness was grander than this. Was being hunted by the CIA, was being given coded messages by the license plates of passing cars, was hearing alien transmissions transponded by one’s amalgam fillings. Stalin behind me, hamburgers before me. On the spectrum that runs from normalcy to psychosis, this abomination of an experience was transpsychiatric. Another Dylan lyric replayed itself to his great irritation in his mind: “Me I busted out, don’t even ask me how.” “I’ve busted out, is that it?”, he thought. Didn’t lose it; didn’t go nuts; didn’t flip my lid; just “busted out.” Busted out of some previous thing into something different. “Got no reason to be there but I ‘magin it would be some kinda change.” His reeling mind seemed to import Dylan lines as a bridge between realities. Reason was no help. Psychology was no help. He had been there. Now he was here. Discontinuous, unrelated, disconnected, inexplicable sequence of experience bridged only by the moaning poetry of Bob.

He turned to Koba, while pointing behind him and gulping, asked “What is this?” “This,” said Stalin, “Is a burger midden. But, heh heh, not, just any burger midden. This is a pile of all the hamburgers you have ever eaten. From the first to the very most recent. Every last one of them, perfectly preserved, right here.”

David was speechless, waiting for Bob to say something, waiting for anything. Lacking any basis of inquiry more suitable to the occasion, he regressed to reason and said “You’re telling me that this hill has in it all the hamburgers I’ve ever eaten? Well, if I’ve eaten them, how come they’re all uneaten here? As a matter of fact, I’ve been on the road a few days here without food and that Big Mac there is looking pretty inviting.”

As he reached for it, Stalin stepped in front of him, raising a hand, saying “You cannot eat the same burger twice.” He went on to explain that the Universe was ordered in certain precise and inviolable ways, and that transgressing them evoked strains in the fabric of space/time which were felt throughout the Universe. Like a tsunami, insignificant at its point of origin, devastating at its destination. A burger twice consumed had been known to trigger a chain of events resulting in a meteor strike upon a planet where a nascent race of reptilians had been ordained to evolve toward ultimate understanding of the workings of the cosmos. Instead, they were destroyed by the consequences of this cataclysm and a primate species emerged that never evolved beyond primitive greed and aggression. It was not an option.

“Well, then, why? Why does this place even exist? How is it important to me or to anyone else how many hamburgers I’ve eaten, much less to actually store them somewhere?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” laughed Stalin. “It has nothing to do with being important. Well, I guess more needs to be said. This is but one section of an archive of everything that’s ever happened, an ever-expanding library of phenomena of every kind -- persons, thoughts, deeds, experiences, chemical reactions, fallings of sparrows, you name it. It’s all here. Where you find yourself today is one subfolder in the archives of David Potamus. And this experience itself as it unfolds is being archived as we speak.”

“Useless and pointless knowledge...”, David muttered to himself.

“Well, you never know,” Stalin countered. I do not know why you are here, or how it is important that you be shown these things, but I can tell you there are no accidents.”

“Why are you here?”, David asked.

“All they would tell me when I was processed was ‘you gotta serve somebody.’ But do not make this about Stalin. Think. Maybe you know why you are here.”

David began to scan the obvious. Was this a message from God to clean up his diet? Did Wesley Willis get transported to this very place and did this inspire him to write “I’m sorry that I got fat?” It was daunting to think that in his lifetime he had downed enough hamburgers that an ascent to the summit would require equipment. That a fall would be fatal. And stamina. Stamina that he lacked because of his diet and lifestyle. Wait. Had he walked into a children’s book written to address the childhood obesity crisis? Had he been appropriated by some cornball deva into an enactment of a moral lesson? This is what can happen when you have too much fat in your diet and you don’t exercise enough. You can’t even climb the equivalent of a pile of all the bad food you’ve eaten. But why Stalin? Why not Sanjay Gupta?

The grand visage of this burger midden began to work its way into his mind, sliding out of the framework of mere perception and into realms of subtle cognition and self-apprisal, like the meat of a burger too-lubricated with mustard and mayo refusing to remain properly situated in the bun. It was assuming the status of a metaphor for the obstacles his choices placed in his path. The experiences he chose to engage, the thoughts, the feelings, the relationships, the activities, the pursuits, the passions, the addictions, all the things that he elected to make part of himself to satisfy some appetite that then became the obstacles that he had to overcome, yet due to their stultifying influence made that quest the more difficult. He sunk to his knees before the burger midden, head dangling from his torso, seeing no escape. This was the moment he had feared. That he had been running from all his life. The unspeakable fate that awaited him at the end of the long road. The final fall when there was nothing left to fall back upon. He crouched there in silence, the cold wind whistling in his ears. He began remembering the Sunday trips to Smaks Drive-In. To the Whopper Burger, long before there was a Burger King. The time he grabbed a Whopper and it fell apart because his hands were too small to hold it and eat it at the same time. He wailed tears of frustration then that his feast had been spoiled and his incompetence revealed before the world. He remembered the Town Topic mini grease burgers favored by his father. And the weird pate his mother made of ground beef, milk and onions smeared on buns soaked in grease. Oh, God, then there was Winsteads, with fries and frosty malts -- there was the highest expression of the hamburger archetype. That was a kinder, gentler life, when a burger and fries and a frosty boosted the spirits more than a new car, a six pack, or a back seat boogie. Bigger toys, bigger thrills, the ante always upped. The short sightedness of legislators and law enforcement, making marijuana illegal because it leads to harder stuff. But what came before marijuana? Go back far enough in any addict’s pathway to degeneracy and you’ll find a hamburger. Maybe, maybe it would have stopped if hamburgers stayed special. No, not that so much. If they had stayed connected to their source somehow. They weren’t just hamburgers. They were Smaks hamburgers and Winsteads hamburgers. They were even mom’s weird hamburgers or the ones dad made on the grill when grills first came out. Hamburgers were integrated into the framework of institutions, temples, and there was a ritual aspect to it all. You didn’t have to “graduate” to harder junk any more than a Huichol has to move on from peyote to crack. If it’s embedded in the sacred, you move on to whatever you want by staying in one place. MacDonalds changed all that, with the “over 10 billion served” mentality. The desacralization of burgerism. Insidious commercialization, devaluation of the spiritual component of the hamburger. This was it! He had traced his way back to where it all started to go wrong. To the fruitless questing after ventures for which the commercial always turned out to be better than the product. Promises never delivered upon. Hopes dashed. Hunger never satisfied. He had made his way back to the Fundamental Error. Resting in the immensity of this moment, he became aware of a hum, a low frequency throbbing of the earth, or whatever it was, beneath him. He looked up, and the midden was aglow with a golden, pulsating light. He shot a quick glance at Stalin, who had an enigmatic expression on his face. He was backing slowly away. Then the whole edifice before him began quaking, shifting, as if it were a collosal pyramid lurching on its foundation. And in one great spasm it lifted itself from the ground, inch by inch, then with a gradual gravity-defying velocity it edged upward as clouds parted in a roiling diffusion revealing a star studded firmament. As the midden reached cloud level it abruptly elongated upward into a streak of light, the nadir of which then followed it in sequence compressing its image into a brilliant point source which brightened against the backdrop of stars like a supernova, then disappeared.

David was in a state. Of shock? No, more of being in a mode of having had his senses thrown completely open, the barriers of his mind dissolved or pushed out to the very ends of the Universe. As his eyes descended to the ground, he saw that in the place the midden had abandoned was a booth with red seats, containing a grey-topped table with a jukebox terminal at one end. On the table was a white elliptical plate. On the plate were a burger and fries that steamed in the cool night air, the steam rising toward the still open aperture in the clouds. Next to the plate was frosty malt with a spoon in it, in a straight clear glass with a bulge at the top. He walked over to the booth and sat down. He stared at the meal, but felt no desire to eat. It was not that he had conquered desire. No, it was more that he was in a state in which desire was just an event on a par with everything else. He was in the burger and the burger was in him. They were complete as they were. No reason to go up, no reason to go down, no reason to go anywhere...