NIGHTWALKING and the PROUSTIAN NOSE-DIET

PROUSTIAN-B

It was drizzly and cold last Thursday but not too windy, so I slapped the headphones on and got another brisk walk out of the King Crimson album (Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) I acquired recently, released in 2016; the version in my possession is two hours and forty minutes of live workouts of some of my favorite King Crimson tracks. The album’s length allows me to shop at a grocery store that’s an hour and ten minutes away, by foot, bypassing all of the stores that are only a few blocks distant and not enough effort to use. I hate convenience. Had I written Dune the catchphrase the neckbeards would all be using would be Convenience is the mind-killer.  I’m a fan of going the long-way-around; a fan also of the Slow (though my walking tempo is fast). I walk to the more distant store with King Crimson blaring (the oldest songs are the best: “21st Century Schizoid Man” a chillingly apt example), turn off the player while shopping, load up with 10-20 kilos of groceries (jars of sauerkraut can be heavy) and walk the hour and ten minutes back home with a full backpack… feeling epic! I gave up Sugar (with a capitol S) in April and then even eliminated Fruit Juice (always my heroin) a few months later and finally made the move, in October, to severely restrict the carbs. Nearly nil, my carbs intake, these days. The complex carbs like pizza dough, noodles, Wonderbread and crackers. Vegetables and nuts I still eat.

Yesterday I took Wife with me on the long walk to the more distant store and she made it all the way to the store. Wife is Valkyrie-tall (5’11 to my 6′) and  has got these boots that are thrilling on her long, slender legs… not the riding boots or the square-toed motorcycle boots which I also dig on her but calf-high boots that look almost Punk, which she wears with magenta leg-warmers. Good as they look,  they are not ideal for long walks. We made it to the store, we loaded up my backpack and walked, from the store,  to put Wife on public transport. A word on public transport: you can infer a lot about a city from its public transport; Berlin’s is clean, extensive, inexpensive and used by all its classes (barring a billionaire or two who may be lurking out in Potsdam or in the countryside). The public transport in most of the cities in the US, in which I have lived or visited, seems to be reserved for tourists and migrant workers and using it, if you’re older than student-age, seems to be an admission of abject failure. Another reason I love Berlin. But enough of that. I put Beloved Exquisite Punk-booted Wife on the U-Bahn and set off on the longish walk home, with my full backpack, in a misty intermittent drizzle at twilight, the hood on my Jack Wolfskin protecting the headphones.

A thing I have noticed during a cold season’s twilight walks, and chilly walks at night, that I have not noticed so much on walks across the afternoon during the same wintry months, is the effect of ambient odors (mostly good) on my thoughts and perceptions during the walk.  Does the optical sun overwhelm the subtler info and associations of the other senses? Also, Berlin in hot months can have a bowel-ish pong (I’ve had it explained to me that the sewer system was designed to accommodate a much larger population and the subsequently low water levels, in those Plutonic pipes, and the huge air gaps, encourage stink) but that effect tends to vanish from October to May. Also, years ago… I think it was 2007… cigarette smoking was banned from indoor public space, which had the ironic consequence that whenever I took long walks, back then, I had to run the gauntlet of smokers who’d been forced out of dungeons and offices on to the sidewalks, summer or winter, exposing me to almost as much cig smoke as I had to endure my club days. But now that cig effect has subsided, for whatever reason. So in the wintry months during long walks at twilight or night, now, what I get is a rich medley of odors with powerful hypnagogic effects, loosening my coordinates in Time. This doesn’t happen on long walks in the forest, for me, except on the evenings that the forest is filled with fashion models.

I know there are many who prefer hiking woodland trails but for me all the action is in the urban trek. Walking in rude raw elegant nature is a restorative maybe once every decade. Nature interpenetrates my city, in any case: I have seen hawks, foxes, weird lizards and hedgehogs in the urban space  (a dead hawk in our garden) and wild boars prancing through an urban-edged park like mossy businessmen.

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Walking across town last night with King Crimson blaring in the intermittent scintillae (spell check refuses to acknowledge “scintillae” as a valid word and won’t let me add it to its righteous vocabulary) of street-lamp-besparkled  (fuck you, spell check)  micro-drizzle, I kept passing through emotional clouds of evocative perfume.  I walked through shampoo ghosts which conjured women I haven’t licked in 40 years. I walked through a long blurred corridor of one perfume that smelled exactly like the inside of my Aunt Elaine’s purse in ’69, evoking also the purse’s soft leather and a high-res vision of  its contents: a tightly rolled clear plastic promotional rain bonnet, a half-consumed tube of Tropical Flavor Lifesavers, lipstick that always looked good enough to eat, money, bus tokens, Kleenex, a hair brush,  tiny metal bottle of Binaca  (spell check: “Bianca!”)  and half a stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It sort of breaks my heart that my Aunt Elaine died before I could confess to her, as a man in his early 60s, how badly I had wanted to fuck her when I was about fifteen. I smelled some unknown German’s perfume on that unknown German’s leather coat in the drizzly twilight and my Aunt Elaine and her purse were reconstituted, for half a city block,  as though from a drop of water and a penny of dust.

Yesterday’s walk was particularly rich in psychedelic experiences, for the nose, to an extent that I would describe as Proustian (spell check suggests I correct this to Proust Ian, the lesser-known nephew). I was slipping between eras as I surged through city blocks with Robert Fripp’s compulsive fingerings in my ears. Proust and Fripp would not be an altogether unlikely duo in Parisian meatspace (fuck you, spellcheck).  One of each on each of two consecutive corners.

It’s very rare that I smell my father’s patchouli on these night walks… that happens once or twice a frightening year… but certain strong echoes of elements of various uncles’ aftershaves or long-ago-co-workers’ lotions, hand creams, Vitalis, incensed-soaked neckties and dry-cleaned uniforms all hit me in my brisk walk home last night. I walked behind an apparently-Turkish man whose cologne reminded me of surreptitiously eating delicious cashews out of a silver dish in a Gay household the kitchen and dining room of which I painted in San Diego in the 1990s.  I smelled people and relived faces, guilt, triumphant conversations and the public embarrassment I suffered the time a guy in the 1980s had borrowed a pricey belt and I visited him to get this pricey belt back  (I went through a model-chasing-addled phase of pricey belts) and he had just showered and his entire basement efficiency smelled of artificial watermelon, which smells nothing like watermelons but is recognizable the world over as artificial watermelon. I put the pricey belt, rolled up, in my coat pocket but what I didn’t know was that there was a hole in this coat pocket smaller than the buckle but not smaller than the width of the belt itself and I therefore walked across the trendiest neighborhood of 1980s Minneapolis, the Uptown Area, with this pricey belt trailing out the bottom of the coat and dragging along behind me like a fucking tail. Whiffing artificial watermelon from teens crossing my path on a twilight walk in the sparkle-drizzle reminded me of this low point but, soon enough, more pleasant memories… waiting politely in a long queue… replaced it. Why this night?

The synergy of multiplying those memory-smell-spells by King Crimson produced a fleeting sensation of omnipotent  immortality. Maybe one hundred and twenty full-strength seconds of that sensation spread intermittently across the last forty minutes of the walk. I was an intermittently sentient nexus of culture and chemicals, striding at a good clip through the twinkle-fog in a twinkle-fog population of Berliners with their various product-odors and their various private histories of these odors they could not express.

I’m not sure how much King Crimson had to do with this immortal/omnipotent delusion, though metallic riffs have the power to make younger men punch the air. What I treasure in King Crimson is the vital grandiosity of the music’s stoic and tragic vision. It’s like aerial, blimp-filmed, dispassionate newsreel footage of the gradual collapse of a massive damn in the vicinity of some age-old and populous village. You wouldn’t punch the air at this.

Perhaps this deluded,  philosophically self-aggrandizing but intermittent sensation of immortal omnipotence was induced primarily because I was horny.

Men-readers, do you recall feeling immortal and omnipotent for seconds, off and on, while sinking slowly into the sweet upholstery of a natural hole in a desired human, when you were still young but not quite new at the Sex Game? I started picking up on these delusional sensations when I was about seven years into the Journey, at 25 (my first hundred experiences were too nervous/ awkward/ everything-obliteratingly jubilant) and I soon began to detect the same sensations even when I wasn’t in a wonderful human-hole, or not even while fucking at all: just remembering and/or anticipating could be enough to trigger it, though it was usually during Autumn and often at twilight the transporting delusion hit me. Is the (hard or semi-tumescent) Dick a sort of antenna for picking up such Delusions in the non-diurnal Aether…? Is the (hard or semi-tumescent) Dick a divining rod in the right hand(s)… ?

See, what happened yesterday is that Offsprung stayed home from school, derailing my plan to fuck Beloved Wife in the sweetspot of early afternoon (as a parent you get used to being checkmated in this way and learn never to get too precious over a fuck deferred; it’s like a game your child isn’t even aware he/she is playing and when they definitively block your attempt to Fuck their Mommy in a particular instance… wailing to be changed at 1am or banging on the bedroom door at noon, on Saturday, asking for a box of thumbtacks,  the sporty thing to do is tip your hat without rancor, concede defeat and get back to the rhythm of the wily game).

Yes, the horniness amplifies everything but thank The Gawdz  (fuck you, spellcheck)  I’m healthy enough to be horny at all.  Thank The Gawdz I’m healthy enough to walk and discriminate/collate/ curate my way through a non-linear collage of Capital’s olfactory narrative.

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2.

We eat way too much, eat way too often, eat far too many kinds of foods and quasi-food and consume more sugar in a year (152 pounds if you’re American, says a disputed source), on average, per capita, than our short and sinewy ancestors managed to acquire, as an entire tribe, in a lifetime. We are killing ourselves and being encouraged to by the fuckers who grow (metaphorically) fat off our addictions and diseases. I’ve been tapering off the Snack Storm for years but I thought, last year: I’m almost 63, feel pretty fucking good and don’t see any reason that I shouldn’t skip across the 100-year-marker both lucid and erect…

We (of the Empire) have indoor plumbing, clean water, heat on demand and refrigeration: we should be living twice as long, and twice as happily, as our great-grandparents. We’ve been trained to think certain poisons on our plates are delicious: are they? I can remember eating Twinkie after Twinkie, year in and year out, as a kid, thinking that maybe the next one wouldn’t taste so weird and stale. But of course THAT was only the Twinkies’ normal flavor! Only brainwashing (aka advertizing and herdthink) could trick me into wanting to eat… and go so far as to crave… something that I didn’t even like.

And, to paraphrase Kate Moss: “Nothing tastes as good as not having a fucked up liver feels!”

My diet five years ago was far narrower than it was fifteen years ago, and my diet today is far (far) narrower than it was five years ago though still pretty broad. Vegetables, leafy greens, sauerkraut, eggs, beef, salmon, mackerel, chicken, nuts, hummus, olive oil, butter, lemons, berries… I even drink powdered wheatgrass (for the potassium) and I’ve found myself enjoying the flavor. Room temp water (filtered) is delicious, too. I drink unsweetened mint tea from Beloved Wife’s garden though I won’t now entirely mention the hilarious family tradition of eating the one perfect, ping-pong-ball-sized tomato she grows every year.

(Key-rist, Offsprung is home from school the second day in a row, today, as I write this: she phoned me from her room at dawn with that barely-audible voice-from-another-world-voice she uses when preparing to announce that school, owing to imperfect health, precipitated by a period or an all-nighter, will not be a thing today)  checkmating my plans to pull her Mommy’s boots off, with a Lucifer smile, again. That sexual tension is propelling this text.)

(That sexual tension also explains why I thought, for about thirty minutes, last night, at bedtime, hours after the walk I describe in this memoir, that I wanted to listen to songs by Carly Simon, her greatest hits, which I sometimes seem to remember being better than they actually are because “You’re So Vain” and “Anticipation” are melodically okay and her not-great-but-somehow-convincing vocals on those tunes are big-lipped and sexy; they imprinted my libido when my libido was impressionable as a ten-minute-young square of sidewalk cement,  c.1971.)

The decrepitude of Old Age? It’s all in our heads! Clean the head, improve the diet, banish ideations of decrepitude from the kingdom.

Sugar is a slow-acting goddamn cyanide.

Beloved Wife was so bemused-looking as I came bounding through our front door at the end of my walk yesterday, wet and horny and ringing with ears.

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PS My method for doing all this without looking like I’m suffering from a Wasting Disease… was to taper patiently. I’ve been tapering for a few years now and it’s only since April that I decided to kick into high gear. My suggestion: banish the sugar and alcohol first. Give it a few months before you get rid of bread, pizza, croissants, scones, crackers, pasta and hotdog buns, too.  Did our short and sinewy sex-drunk hominid ancestors eat spaghetti? Seems impossible to quit but I promise: a month or two after your last slice of toast, toast will begin to seem very strange to you.

PPS Because Offsprung is home  from school with period pain I’ve been shuttling between her room and my office, editing this essay while also chatting with her in the kitchen while heating up Mozzarella Sticks improperly and putting up a wall-mounted bass-hanger for her Beatles bass, resulting in many typos/ errors and overall meta-hilarity in this essay but a pretty solid-looking wall-hanger for the bass.

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2 Comments

  1. As a Nordire might say, I only noticed two/tree typos. Too much to relate to here to tabulate. Crimson, check. Verdantish Berlin, check. Weening off edible toxicity, check. But the purse at the dawn of Aquarius, its leather smell and that of each of its contents… why we could imagine eating that lipstick is a story all its own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re: Elaine’s edible lipstick: it’s surprising the (Hitchcockian?) obsessions we can nurture for decades subconsciously. And here’s the Jungian bit: I suddenly realized this buried teen obsession with Elaine quite recently, and I mentioned it, obliquely, in an essay here… then a month or two later learned she’d died the week (in 2019) I wrote about her. I couldn’t even do my Oedipus Complex “normally”… I had to make a lateral move to my mother’s sister!

      Liked by 1 person

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