Arts and Culture

Americanface, Episodes 37-40

Story So Far: I anxiously await the results of a pregnancy test.

By Andrew Struthers 26 Jan 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Struthers is a filmmaker and writer in Victoria.

37: FAMILY

Whether Rust helped end the Cold War or nearly got us nuked is open to debate, but one thing about his adventure is certain: chance was an essential ingredient.

Although he had planned his flight ever since the collapse of the Reykjavik Summit, Rust says he doesn't remember making the decision to stray east from his registered flight plan. He just found himself flying towards Estonia instead of Stockholm.

Shortly after he deviated from his course an oil slick was seen on the water. He was declared missing and eventually billed $100,000 for the search and rescue, but the coincidence covered his trail until he entered Soviet air space.

There, he overflew the site of a major plane crash from the day before and was mistaken for one of the helicopters buzzing around the wreckage, thanks to the low cruising speed of his Cessna. Soviet air defense tracked him and discussed shooting him down, but the department had recently been restructured and no one knew what was going on at the best of times.

Between the crash site and Moscow the air force happened to be conducting training operations. The newbie pilots made so many mistakes that air traffic controllers threw up their hands and assigned friendly status to all flights in the vicinity, including Rust.

Finally, the bridge he landed on would normally have been strung with cables that had been removed for maintenance that morning and were replaced the next day.

George Bush has a word for this sort of thing: horseshoes.

The horseshoes didn't last. After Rust was repatriated as a goodwill gesture from Gorbachev to Reagan, he stabbed a nurse who spurned his love, served 15 months, married an Indian tea heiress, converted to Hinduism, stole a cashmere sweater, got caught, paid a fine, stole again, was convicted for fraud, and today lists himself as a professional poker player.

Chances are he was crazy all along. And apart from the nurse-stabbing incident, I LIKE IT!

(You can watch a short documentary about Rust's adventure here: http://www.dr.dk/Tema/rust/english/flight.htm)

38: POLARIZED

Anima-posessed flake /'anime/ n Psychol. 1. Jungian term for a man who is unconsciously controlled by the feminine aspect of his psyche.

As Jung is rumored to have said, "Thank God I am not a Jungian."

39: LIMPING

Remember back in episode two, when I carved the name "Americanface" in huge letters in the cutbanks at the edge of town? Well, I chose that exact spot because two years earlier I almost died there.

It was the Sunday after graduation, and I felt overwhelmed by life ahead without the fake structure imposed by schooling. I had figured out a way to scale the cutbanks by carving foot- and handholds into the cliff face with a rock, and was showing this technique to my friend Douglas Berry.

Doug had the right attitude for this sort of thing. Whether we were overdosing on LSD in the basement of his parents' house, or getting caught in a rip tide off Long Beach, I knew I could count on him to screw up just as badly as me. That's teamwork.

By the time we reached the top, the afternoon sun had dried out the sand and our footholds began to crumble until we realized we couldn't go back the way we had come. We were so close to the top that I could almost grasp a dangling tree root. But Doug managed a lateral sally onto the crest of a ridge, and from there he could see a way down.

I made it to the ridge and we stared into a steep little gully that ended with a sheer drop to the train tracks sixty feet below. Ever the optimist, I figured I could boot-ski down. I had done so successfully the summer before on a nearby cutbank half as high. So I let myself slither forward over the edge.

Doug remembers the next part differently from me. He says I spun around and disappeared over the lip backwards and upside down. I don't remember being upside down until later. In fact, I thought I was going to make it just fine until I reached the end of the gully and shot out into space.

It was a terrifying moment, like clutching a falling ladder in a dream. My left foot hit the cliff and my knee buckled. The pain was eclipsed by the nausea that comes from hurting yourself really badly, then I was upside down for a bit, then the planet punched me in the kidneys, driving the air from my lungs so that when I reached the end of my rag-doll roll in the ditch beside the CN railway tracks, I couldn't even cry out to let Doug know I had survived.

After a year of slowly spiralling back pain, a bout of spinal surgery set me right again. It was while waiting for surgery that the Americanface affair began, partly spurred by the experience of willing myself through the pain.

I suppose carving those giant letters at the scene of my near demise was a way of reclaiming the territory from the land of pain and terror, and a reminder that, to quote The Cowboy, "A man's attitude goes some ways toward deciding the way his life will be."

40: DELIVERANCE

Allan McCallum was a sane and happy man, but the week of my first visit he was a little over-excited, perhaps because it was also the week of the Harmonic Convergence.

While I lay stretched out and pinned, the phone rang. McCallum listened for perhaps three minutes to whoever was on the other end, occasionally muttering, "Ah don't know... Ah don't know..." into the receiver, then he blurted something about an angel that had appeared on a TV in Los Angeles at the moment of the Convergence. "They unplugged the TV, an' hit it wi' a hammer, 72 hours now, and the angel's still on it!"

Not many remember the planetary alignment of August 16, 1987, but it marked the end of the world long before 2012 or Y2K, a dry-run Armageddon touted by Jose Argüelles.

Argüelles -- a devotee of the entirely non-existent New Age luminary Pacal Votan -- writes in his 2002 book "Time and the Technosphere" that the world's problems result from marking time with a 12:60 beat, and from the modern West's "artificial, mechanized 60-minute hour." To heal the world, all we have to do is switch to a more natural "synchronic order," such as the Mayan 13:20 time signature, which is apparently more of a jazz rhythm.

Presumably this new natural order would include stew made from human flesh and corn called tlacatlacualli ("people-food"), as the Mayans were wont to chew, although not because they were evil. More likely they had fallen into what the anthropologist/shaman Michael Harner calls a "protein trap."

Meso-America was bereft of ruminants like cattle and sheep, which convert grass into protein. There were lots of pigs, but pigs are omnivores, and compete with humans for protein by eating nuts and other animals, resulting in a net protein loss.

As the Meso-American population increased beyond its carrying capacity, it was forced to sustain itself by cannibalism. Enemies of the state and prisoners of war were kept in corrals and eaten, especially by the rich. The conquistadors chalked this bad behaviour up to the thirst of their jaguar gods.

At least, that's one theory. There is plenty of archeological evidence of such behaviour, but no consensus on its meaning.

There is however a definite consensus on whether Argüelles got his facts straight regarding the Mayan calendar: not even close. Argüelles himself admits this. Originally a painter, his insights are more Mayan calendar art than science.

But he's also wrong about the "modern, mechanistic" origin of the 12:60 time signature, which derives not from the dehumanized West but from the ancient East, from the Hindu concept of the "Day of Brahmin" -- an 864 billion-year cycle of creation and destruction that actually comprises a 432 billion-year day, followed by Hindu Armageddon, then 432 billion years of night, then another creation, et cetera. So the full cycle should actually be called the "Twenty-Four-Hour Shift of Brahmin".

Mythologist Joseph Campbell tracks the course of the sacred number 432,000 from the Vedas east into Babylon, where it appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh as the sum of years lived by the ten long-lived Kings who ruled Ur before the gods wearied of their constant partying and got mesopotamian on their asses.

The Jews brought the number back from their captivity in Babylon, encoded in the list of Patriarchs in Genesis, from Adam to Noah, whose years add up to 1,656 -- which is exactly 86,400 weeks.

By the 13th century, the sacred number had reached all the way to Iceland, where it resurfaces in the Eddur as the exact number of warriors at their local apocalypse, Ragnarok.

So in all four traditions, stretching from Bombay to Iceland, there is a cycle of creation, then 432 of something (years, decades, millennia), then Armageddon. This is no more a coincidence than Japan's limiting of its kanji count to 1,945 in the wake of World War II. But neither does it reveal a Dan Brownian conspiracy so much as a bunch of scribes having fun with numbers.

And if these numbers seem familiar to you, it's because there are 8,640 seconds in a day -- measured in the ancient world from dawn til dusk, which in equatorial regions like India lasts about twelve hours. Again, dawn, or creation, followed by 4,320 seconds of daylight, then sunset, followed by 4,320 seconds of night.

What interests me is that when the sacred number passes from the Orient to the Occident, half of the cycle goes missing. In Ur, Israel and Iceland there is no Night of Brahmin. We skip straight to the New World of Gilgamesh, Noah, Baldur.

Campbell says he doesn't know why that is. I would guess it is a corollary of the essential one-sidedness that defines western culture, analogous to the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven, women from government, and men from the modern family unit.

But such one-sidedness is not necessarily a bad thing. In any case, hating your own culture while lauding another, such as the ancient Mayans, that you know nothing about, is just one more form of this one sidedness, a folly Arguilles has succumbed to with relish.

For example, it's easy to come up with possible reasons for marking time in 12:60 measures that don't include hating the West -- reasons that might easily be grasped by a smart fellow like Argullies if his royalty cheques did not depend upon him not grasping it.

A single second lasts about the length of a human heartbeat. Far from being mechanical and inhuman, the West's relationship with time springs from the very centre of human life.  [Tyee]

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