Who Among Us Has Not Stepped Through This Door? – Theresa Smith

All of the treatments were, in their own ways, total hells, but the treatment for high-inference psychosis was probably the worst of them. They stick you in this bright little room with lots of windows and an old computer and make you watch a movie. So in the first scene of this movie there’s a man driving a pickup truck full of yellow bricks over a narrow, rickety bridge. The bridge sways and collapses and the truck pitches into the river below. A prompt appears onscreen that says: EXPLANATION?


I’ve been through enough Consolation of Correlation modules to know that any answer other than “NONE” is incorrect, but I can’t help it, so I type: They are filming a movie about illegal brickrunning, and unfortunately this man has fallen victim to his own avarice before he can break the law and charge people a premium price for a necessary good. The prompt disappears, and now there’s a kitchen scene where a man in overalls opens a screen door and walks over to a woman seated at a table, paying some bills. He gently places a hand on her shoulder and begins to tell her something, whereupon she bursts into tears and buries her head in his shoulder. Then the prompt again, EXPLANATION?


I type, This woman has just learned that the pair of overalls she ordered for this season’s harvest dance will not be ready in time, and she mourns the certain failure of her corn crop due to her inability to participate in this important pagan ritual.


After that there’s a scene in a church, where people are filing quietly past a white coffin. The woman is sitting in the front pew with a handkerchief pressed to her face. She gets up slowly, goes to the coffin, and places a white rose on top of it. Then the card again, EXPLANATION? I type, This is the corn god, Morris, whose symbolic death and resurrection are celebrated each year at the harvest festival. The woman has just offered a sacrifice to Morris in the hope that her corn crop will not fail this year. In the next scene, the woman’s back at the kitchen table and she’s got her head in her hand, staring vacantly at the same pile of bills. She reaches for her pocketbook and dumps it out on the table, and you see a bunch of crumpled tissues and a single dime fall out of it. EXPLANATION?


I type, These letters are petitions from the townspeople asking her to leave, because they are afraid that her ill luck will affect the bounty of their harvests. If she does not leave, they will soon burn her. Then back at the church again, where a preacher in modest dress stands behind a pulpit speaking to his congregation, which includes the woman, sitting alone in a rear pew. When the offering plate is passed, she places the single dime into it. EXPLANATION? I type, The woman is paying the shaman to intervene for her by convincing the townspeople to burn him in effigy. Now a scene in the preacher’s chambers. He’s sitting behind a very cluttered desk with his hands folded, nodding in understanding as the woman, sitting in an uncomfortable-looking replica of a Louis XIV chair, speaks with high emotion, barely able to hold back her tears. Her sense of shame is palpable. EXPLANATION?


I type, The shaman has already told the woman that the sacrifice will require an additional 14 chickens and two sheep, which she does not have. She has told him of her plan to steal the animals from another village. He is warning her of the possibility of retribution, which, being earthly, will not have the stigma of being forsaken by the corn god, Morris, but will nonetheless imperil the livelihoods of the townspeople. He urges her not to be selfish. Next scene: the woman, still in her Sunday dress, enters a dusty pawnshop and takes from her pocketbook a bundled rag containing a number of objects: a watch, a bracelet, and a small silver charm in the shape of a boot. The old man behind the counter surveys the objects and shakes his head. EXPLANATION?


I type, Having failed to secure the favor of the corn god with a flower sacrifice, the woman is going behind his back to petition a lesser god, Kumon, the god of unwanted objects, and the fact that he has signaled his refusal of her objects actually means that he has accepted them, and will protect her.


In the next scene, an unidentified man places a sign that reads FOR SALE in the yard of the woman’s house, and hammers it into the ground with a rock he finds nearby. EXPLANATION? I type, This is a ruse to fool Morris into thinking the woman has left the village. The following scene shows us a man climbing down from the cab of a pickup truck to unfasten the tailgate and help the woman into the back of the truck. She carries a battered suitcase which she places underneath her feet as she sits down on a bench seat. As the truck pulls away in a cloud of yellow dust, she takes a last look at her house. EXPLANATION? I type, The woman has been accepted as a priestess of Kumon. Then in the final scene, the camera zooms in on the truck’s driver, who is no longer the man who helped the woman into the truck, but the same man we saw at the beginning of the film. The screen starts going crazy. It flashes EXPLANATION??? and starts strobing red, yellow and purple. I type, This is Morris.


Alright, so it doesn’t like that, because the windows snap shut and the room goes black. The smell of minestrone fills the air. The lights come on and I see that the floor is covered in mud. A badly burned corpse begins to crawl into the room through a door I hadn’t noticed. A scrap of chalk writes on the blackboard, THEOLOGY IS ANTHROPOLOGY, at which time another piece of chalk comes along and effaces it, writing, I CAN’T READ! All the while, there’s an electric shock going through my chair, and I have to pee. A flagon of coffee appears and pours itself onto my shirt. I try to jump up, but I’m frozen in place. Through the window comes a gray book the size of a large moth, which hovers in front of my face and opens itself up to a page on which I see an engraving of a man dressed as a bear climbing a ladder into a fruit tree. The book snaps shut with a puff of dust and becomes a harmonica. I wonder where they’re going with this. I don’t think they’re going to let me pee anytime soon, so I give up and piss my pants. At this, the walls drop away and I’m in a giant concert hall, seated at a grand piano, with my hands poised above the keys. The score is a diagram of wind turbulence over an airplane wing. Thinking I have already performed, I stand up to take a bow, only to have the audience explode into wild laughter, seeing that I have pissed my pants. I run for the stage wings, but find that they are large inflatable slides. I jump down one and slide into a large oak coffin, which snaps right shut. They keep me in there for a while. I don’t know how long, but after I get out, things make a lot less sense, so I guess it worked. A few more modules, and a few more coffins, and I’ve become the strong, self-assured, cause-agnostic intercessor-to-the-intercessors who speaks through me, to you, now.


I’d say about half our high-volume customers are former phobics. By the time we see them, they’ve been through the entire Consolation of Correlation curriculum and are now perfectly, quiveringly aware that there is effectively no relationship between experience and its apparent causes or effects, at least practically speaking, except through the intercession of CauseWay. The pre-conversion lamentophobe may insist that he is “enlightened” and chooses to see his unhappy life as a waystation on the road to an everlasting grace beyond the burdens of material reality, or he may profess that individuals should be responsible for resolving their own conflicts. The former is classified as an anhedonic schizophrenic, and the latter as bipolar with grandiose delusions.


The course of treatment for anhedonic schizophrenia goes something like this:


The client takes the stage in front of an audience armed with horns, balloons, banners and other support items including, but not limited to, homemade signs with the client’s personal information on them, pictures of the client working in his yard, and items taken from the client’s car or house for ritual purposes. Among the crowd, conspicuously placed and fitted with oversized stethoscopes, are a number of “doctors”, who scribble furiously in notebooks and wear expressions of outrageous intensity. The doctors are accompanied by nurses, whose low-cut white tunic tops expose their nipples. The nurses carry teddy bears and suck lollipops in a parody of subjugation to their male counterparts. The client is seated on an upholstered throne. A stunning woman wearing a bandolier presses a jar of trained moths to his left nipple while a poultice of truffle oil and diazepam is applied to his tongue, his feet are washed by a groveling priest, and warm air scented with burning hearts of oak and the faintly vegetal odor of female arousal wafts upward from a vent beneath the throne. The sound of a far-off train whistle completes the immersion experience. The client drifts off to sleep.


When, after a time, his brain waves begin to display the characteristic patterns of deep slumber, three things happen in quick succession: the audience, jolted by a sudden shock transmitted through the metal bleachers, spontaneously rises up, bellowing and blaring their horns and bursting their balloons and pelting the client with items they have stolen from him. As the infantilized nurses fix an ominous but still slightly coy look upon the client, he is stripped naked by a troop of trained Indian runner ducks who also hiss and bite him, forced to snort iron filings, and plunged into a bath of ice water at the foot of the stage. If the client is able to recover his voice in the midst of his moral rebirth, the sound that escapes his lips is a sort of animal moan made mostly of vowels.


This tortured aspiration in the language of betrayal always means the same thing: Why me? This simple question neatly condenses centuries of colloquy regarding the relationship between reason and identity into a single syllable, which is no small feat, and constitutes both a personal epiphany and a gift to all those in attendance. The doctors and nurses embrace. The client, meanwhile, has collapsed into a small puddle of rage at the foot of the throne. He huddles there for hours, speaking to himself sotto voce in a high waterlogged gurgle, occasionally screaming or emitting a high whine like the sound of a telescoping crane. Eventually, he opens an eye, then two, and the audience erupts with applause and whistles. He staggers to his feet, helped by one or more nurses, who look upon him with the respect accorded to a man who has completed an arduous spiritual pilgrimage, and expose their nipples again. Ticker tape infused with the scent of rotting eyebeams and leather drifts from the eaves of the stage. Welcomed to his new life, in which Obligation and power are one and the same, and one may not shirk or relinquish but by the good grace of your friends at CauseWay, intones a female voice, he is walked to the Great Hall of the Courage House for further enlightenment.


The Great Hall opens out under a gray vault of ceiling, into which are sunk three immense skylights. Colossal granite pillars support tilings of onyx and travertine, which extend down the walls to frame a series of allegorical murals. One depicts the biblical David reading from a complaint scroll as the giant Goliath listens intently, having dropped his weapon. Another portrays the Egyptian God Osiris presiding over his infamous scales, with a human heart on one side of the balance and a complaint scroll on the other. Another vignette features a hunched humanoid figure rendered in green amazonite perched at the edge of a cliff, reading from a complaint scroll as a horde of villagers listens intently, torches and steaming buckets of tar at their sides. In another, clearly the product of a fertile imagination, a fox perched atop a log reads a long complaint scroll made of leaves and birchbark to an Irish Setter who stops, mid-bay, to contemplate his concerns.


A new banner, cheaply printed, is strung between two pillars. WELCOME TO CAUSEWAY! it yells. THE LUCK STOPS HERE!


Exiting the Great Hall, the new complainant is steered through a side door into a small room outfitted with a chair, a screen and a projector. The lights flicker and dim.


Stoicism is impermissible, a female voice intones. The world is no place for stoics.


The refusal to complain – I continue – is an antisocial gesture intended to inhibit the formulation of a worldwide taxonomy of dissatisfaction. We don’t know what you don’t like, unless you tell us, Bruce!


In order to produce better laws, we must know what our clients desire, and what irks them. We don’t work for you unless you work for us!


The manifold strategies devised by humans to get around oppressive legal systems blocking access to a perfect world is proof that these systems are irrelevant to the concerns of most, and serve only the privileged few for whose benefit they were constructed. Laws are a drag, am I right, Bruce?


CauseWay proposes to do away with this harmful species of unreality, and in its place create a body of law that takes into account the needs and desires of the many. Your law, the way you want it!


We start with the basic assumption that man’s overwhelming desire is to live free of concern for anything or anyone, and that all of his behaviors can be explained by recourse to this preference. In other words: Leave us alone! It sounds better in Latin, trust me.


The film begins, uncredited, with a title card: The Ascendance of Emotional Man, and his Eventual Subjugation. The first shot is of a mountainous, empty desert under a blazing white sun. A dark cloud enters the frame from the right side, and the camera pans out until we see a pre-alluvial man pointing and jabbering and wailing at the cloud. The cloud covers the sun and the desert dissolves to gray and begins to shimmer and becomes a pool of water in a trough of rough-hewn slate, next to which is a bearded man gesticulating wildly and unleashing a stream of silent invective as he tries, possibly, to domesticate a horse. Then through the millennia to a sun-baked building site where a man reacts with bellowing fear to the sight of a scorpion, which causes heavy temple stones to fall clattering to the ground and crush everyone but him. The next shot shows us the stoic suffering of Christ on the cross, gritting his teeth and sweating profusely, before pulling out to show the uncontrollable weeping and wailing of two women in the crowd, then a tight shot of an open, keening mouth which becomes the war bellow of a soldier in a nightmare vision of marauding hordes clothed in skins and furs howling with rage as they descend upon a perfectly symmetrical phalanx of grim-faced Roman stylites. Who suffers in silence, a placard informs us, usually winds up on the losing side.


Then an impressive shot in which a camera moves through the streets of a muddy village to enter the dingy, candlelit workshop of a young man grinding glass lenses, pulling back to reveal a gleaming brass telescope in the middle of the room. This, a placard informs us, is where things started to go wrong. The man points the telescope at a window and squints through it, at which time the dents and rings of a small greenish planet fill the screen, and the shot expands to reveal a neat diorama of planets circling a sun. Cut back to the man, now old, sitting at an oak desk, filling a page of vellum with mathematical equations. The Ascendancy of Reason over Emotion, another placard reads.


In the next shot, a Spanish galleon comes ashore and a group of solemn, white-shirted men in plumed helmets file out. One of them begins to read a pronouncement from a long scroll to a group of astonished natives gathered on the shore. The next scene is an animation in which the natives, symbolized by a group of red dots, are comically zig-zagging across a map, splitting off and coming back together and running circles around one another in slapstick fashion. The movement of the Spaniards is symbolized by black crosses, which move across the country in organized triangles and quincunxes along geometric lines, making the red dots disappear, until the remaining red dots are quivering comically together in a small tight circle, at which time a circle of black crosses is placed around them. We swoop down into the circle of black crosses, which become the staves of a wrought-iron fence surrounding a church. The agitating dots blacken and become the swell of an enormous thunderhead, representing emotion, which lashes rain and whips bolts of lightning at a man in a tunic who struggles up the church steps with a hammer and a piece of vellum, which he labors to nail to the church doors, the belting rain making it very difficult for him. The camera zooms in on the document, whose edges begin to flicker and wave and the stern Gothic penmanship disjoint and reconfigure itself until the legend “WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF BREAD!” becomes visible, and the camera pulls back to reveal a morning scene of a bakery in a small town with a line, extending several blocks, of people waiting to buy bread. A man breaks from the back of the line and runs toward the door of the bakery, at which time he is seized by others in the line, beaten in a very graphic fashion, and left to die in a slick of blood and vomit while the others reclaim their place in line. Then the mess hall of a modern prison where prisoners are miserably spooning mashed potatoes, and a dolly shot in which the camera rolls down the aisle between the long wooden benches, focusing on the backs of the prisoners’ gray uniforms, on which are displayed numbers that rise in sequential order beginning with 001. The camera zooms in on the number 041, which becomes part of a phone number on a television screen, on which the legend “SPEAK YOUR MIND!” appears superimposed over the picture of a sympathetic-looking woman at a neat desk in a call center, head craned to the earpiece of a telephone receiver, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. The camera zooms out to reveal that the television belongs to a man sitting at a table in his living room, gripping a telephone receiver in his hand, gesticulating and weeping in a way that indicates he is relating some horrible misfortune to the person on the other end of the line. The screen splits, and we see who he is talking to: a young woman, seated at a messy desk, rolling her eyes and smirking as she chews a large wad of gum and doodles on a yellow legal pad. The camera zooms in on her drawing, which is a series of lines and peaks which resolves itself into a still photograph of a mountainous desert, which holds for approximately 10 seconds until a huge mushroom cloud explodes in the middle of it. Briefly superimposed is a slow-motion shot of the girl’s hair flying back, glasses shattering, teeth knocked down her throat by a flying stapler. A placard reads: THE ASCENDANCY OF CHAOS OVER ORDER. We see an extremely fast backwards montage of all the film’s footage, ending with a shot of the same mountainous desert. A NEW BEGINNING, a placard reads. Then the lights go up, and the lecture begins.


The basic story of technology is this, I say. A curtain sweeps itself aside, revealing me.


As complexity increases, disorder increases, I intone, and our understanding of disorder increases, and our capacity for disorder increases, until we gain and surpass the genius of the world’s derangement.


I move slowly toward the new complainant, in the legless way I was taught, watching the disorder on his face increase with my nearness. I stop just short of his feet, drop to my knees, and grasp both of his hands.


You must pray in this way, I say.


I dip my head.


I, a creature of flesh and blood and also a certain amount of electricity and chemical recombination which I do not understand, have within my heart a number of things that cannot be tolerated, so I must lay them before You. For showing you the shape of my soul in its secret slumber, a thing I expose to no one and which seen in its chambers could do irreparable harm to my reputation, I expect a sympathetic ear, a timely decision and an immediate resolution. I demand these things of You, because You told me to.


Alas, you did not tell me how to do it, which is where CauseWay comes in. By Speaking My Mind and refusing to suffer in silence, I authorize CauseWay to exercise the powers and discretions described forthwith, and hereby revoke any and all contracts previously signed by me. CauseWay shall have full power and authority to act on my behalf.


I hereby authorize CauseWay to batter, beat, shred, mangle, macerate, compel, force, and generally blast anything and everything that stands in the way of my ability to exercise the basic human right of being free of care in a world I’ve been brought into by no fault of my own. I agree to abide by the decisions made by CauseWay, even if I find their methods inappropriate, their actions in poor taste or their results less than optimal. I understand these are just preparations for an eventual payoff that will blow my mind, believe me.


Your Grace, I am nothing more than a large and expensive battery suffering needlessly from the contagion of moral agency. Guilt, shame, regret, low self-esteem, doubt and dissatisfaction are my lot for allowing others to convince me that a crude forgery of an extrinsic system of values I neither love nor understand attends my passage at all times. I’d like to think there’s such a thing as being right, but there isn’t.


My whole life has been one of hearing things unsaid and speaking without making any sound. The people I regard as my friends are simply interested in the way my muscles convulse when I try to produce words, and to please me they mimic my non-speech, which sounds to them like a disturbed breathing. No one has ever heard a thing I’ve said. All they’ve ever heard is “hhhhhhhhh”.


I authorize CauseWay to be my mouth and my ears, figuratively speaking. I am hereby content to think of myself as the inexplicable relic of Your thought and Your action, and authorize CauseWay to fully represent my interests in the court of Your Grace.


I understand that this prayer constitutes a legal contract. CauseWay’s official position regarding religion is as follows: A religion one or more of whose principals are still living is a cult. A religion appealing to known information about the universe is a complex tautology. A religion that promises to alleviate suffering is a hoax. A religion that proposes to explain creation is begging the question. A religion that demands the soul is parasitic. A religion that proposes an identity between self and soul is pure mysticism.


I understand that human experience has one dimension only, and that human expression has but one degree of freedom, in which it can move in one of two directions. Towards perfection, or away from it.


I choose perfection.


I stop talking and squeeze open an eye. The complainant’s smile is broad, and his nostrils are dilated with pleasure. I hear the happy rattle of his breath guttering down an airway blissfully and lazily half-closed with the last dull spasms of amour-propre to desert a dying intellect.


You may stand now, I say serenely.


Bruce’s eyes are glittering in the strange white mask of his face, alive to the possibility of losing him. They instinctively close as I take his hand, signaling their silent assent as we move towards the door. I guide them out into the expanse of the Great Hall, attended by congratulatory signage and polite applause, and hang a sharp right towards perfection.