The Formula To Happiness
o it starts right here. I suppose this is good a time as any to get down to the work. I’ve been a mess over starting this task for the last nine weeks, but where to get the ball rolling is no longer an issue. Before just now, the “ordering” of the story…the Curse, my relationship, the scientists, the notebooks…were driving me almost totally out of my mind. How to start it, where, and with who were previously of great importance to the me of here and now…but now I am just too tired to try and convince you I give a shit.
Seems like it should be a cinch from my trusty folding metal chair here at THREE for FIVE TACOS in Carrboro. Feeling total control over my surroundings. At least for now.
Three filthy white day laborers and a plump, well-manicured Mexican walk through the door and begin ordering up a mess of tacos, tortas, and beer. The clock on the wall over my table looks like it’s ticking…not half, but maybe a third slower than it should be. Not a good sign where I come from. Just sitting here completely relaxed-looking…like it would make sense to. No one here knows me, where I’ve been, or what I’ve gotten myself wrapped up in. Just another shady gringo that has mysteriously decided to perch himself on a chair at the local all-Mexican restaurant and corner-store.
I get temporarily distracted again—and this happens a lot—now by a Telemundo program called, “EL GORDO & LA PRINCESA”, which seemed a little to close for comfort to my high school experience growing up in the rich north suburbs of Chicago. It was right then I realized if I’m to re-write the bulk of this “stuff” here at a certified “Bodega”, I should want to invest in some Spanish lessons that I won’t fail out of like I did in high school. Let alone twice.
I HAD the bulk of it written…just to keep everything straight. But once the “Gruesome-Twosome” as we had started calling them found out I was going to blow the whistle, they connived to have it stolen. Which I guess means they still have one project or another to protect.
But yeah. They stole my fucking book. And more specifically, the four notebooks with the story in it. Detailed entries on the formula and all the Heaven and Hell that surrounds it. But again, I’m too worn from thinking to give a rats-fuck anymore. I’m guessing it’s just too late.
I still get plenty of the twisted thoughts, though…most likely on account of all the strange chemicals still rotting away the interior of my spinal column or wherever. On occasion, I still blame the like for my poor posture--which can leave me sitting there curled up like a shrimp if I’m not paying attention. But then again, so can the shock of watching an earlier version of yourself disintegrate into a levitating bundle of whirling DNA strands and shimmering particles before your eyes. These things can really happen.
While I sit here trying to peacefully reconstruct the last few years in writing, “The Bad Thing” takes over my line of thought, once again…
The “Bad Thing” was an unfortunate line of thought Tucker and I were forced to develop at the hands of a couple of ugly Chicago cocaine dealers who wanted to steal my formula…THE formula… the Formula to Happiness; which, to no avail, was somewhere in the four notebooks those fucking chemists stole a few years later.
Even though it started as a series of bad jokes, the bad thing was eventually the best way of keeping us safe, and grounded to where we were.
Why am I even explaining this? Fuck it.
The key to summoning this line of thought is to fit a few things into the equation.
1) Who and what were you were dealing with,
2) What was the worst possible thing that could conceivably go wrong, and
3) What was the most extreme action we could take to counteract the situation immediately?
Simple. Get your bearings, then go flailing straight off the deep end.
These were the tenets of the “Bad Thing”.
Tuck and I originally started off by considering,
“What is the BEST way to deal with...(any particular crisis)”?
Seemed much more reasonable at first.
Why would anyone want to start with a purely, go-ape-shit-style response? But regardless, “What’s the Bad Thing?” became a common question heard from many of us.
The problem came when we learned that demographics like the west side Puerto Rican drug dealing crowd and scientists from over-funded, secret Psych/Chem labs don’t usually make for good friends. They don’t make the “cut” by factoring what’s right, most responsible, and best for everyone into their weekly work nut. So we had to adjust our…perspective. After just three months around a few of ‘em…and one severe beating, one (dropped)“conspiracy to commit kidnapping” charge, and at least two solid fuck-arounds with other-peoples’ money, there didn’t seem to be a better way of handling them. The people involved. I’ll clarify as we proceed.
There are a lot of “bad things” all around us—but as for right here and now, back at Three For Five Tacos; the BAD THING would be that these Mexicans recognize me…maybe from the newspaper or a dream they had.
I’m told I show up in a lot of peoples’ dreams now…
Suddenly I become aware that I am getting some very possibly real icy glares from a few of the folks behind the counter. Were my thoughts from before bleeding through to this very junction in time? In “Bad Thing” reality…which, I’ve GOT to try and impress upon you can be about 90% as real as true and physical reality but just in another space…out of nowhere, things have gone completely a-rye with the Mexicans. I see one in back who just made eye contact with the mustached manager and I just KNOW he’s about to pick up the phone and call the police or the F.B.I. or whoever. On the other end of the bar I notice the previously friendly female server slowly reaching for something under the counter, which I can only assume is some sort of weapon. A weapon she may feel the need to use against me. Two dudes by the bathroom are sizing me up as if they had plans to tackle me for restraining purposes...one has a knife on his belt. “Sweet Jesus of jumping time and space,” I thought. “What have I done?” Things were quickly heating up.
The Bad Thing, in this situation, would cause me to…no—to force me to actually brandish the emergency sawed off shotgun I have in my press case. I always thought it was handy because of its dual purpose as an audible “shit has gotten way out of control” alarm. Once that famous “SHOOK-SHOOK!” noise cuts across the room everything either freezes or comes to another head quickly. I leap out of my seat with a violent jerk. Here we go.
“NOBODY MOVE!” I scream as I gesture with the gun for everyone in my path to the door to line up against the far wall. Just to let them know I mean business, I turn and blast one of the tall, stacked piles of homemade tortillas off the bar and into oblivion. Between the food explosion and the noise it gave everyone a bad jolt, even me. But it provided the split second opportunity I needed to grab my bag from under the table, and dart for the safety of darkness behind the neighboring chicken wing restaurant. Solitude…safety from the crunch of colliding presents.
I blink twice.
A hushed noise like a caught-mouse screeching under a wet bath towel coming from behind me catches my ear.
“Eye…ey ah…sare?” It gets louder as I snap back into place.
“SIR?” The voice trembles again.
I look down and the gun isn’t in my hands…and I sure wasn’t razzing the shit out of any employees or sprinting across a small parking lot. I’m sitting twenty feet away from where I was just standing.
“Ey heav two tacos, sare,” the small waitress says with a smile and a plastic ketchup bottle of green sauce in hand as she sets down the tacos.
Tacos…yeah. I ordered these. I was back in my folding chair. Just like that, it never happened…almost as quickly as it had.
For the moment, I can rest easy amongst my non-English-speaking friends for all they are now worth to me: a safe place to work--serving homemade food and a good selection of cheap cervesas where it seems unlikely that I will get killed. Just what I needed. No unexpected bleed-through, either, with the exception of a single, spent shotgun shell lying on the floor. Good. Excellent.
* * *
Play "Teeth Like God's Shoe Shine” by Modest Mouse at a blaring volume…
ITS BEEN a lot harder to keep everything straight lately. Ever since that fateful night when we tried to reproduce The Formula To Happiness, things changed. Even understanding full well that any attempt at intentional reproduction could have the most disastrous and tragic side effects—side effects of perhaps planetary consequence or worse, we couldn’t resist.
It’s been alleged that the compound, the formula itself, could never be artificially manufactured or sold—that it was a thing of nature…of natural cosmic cross-wiring—and could only be produced through a series of nearly backwards occurrences of the Butterfly Effect. You know—as in “You step on a butterfly today and three years from now the world as you knew it doesn’t exist anymore”.
This natural occurrence is especially important to understand…regardless of what you want to call it. I’m sure it has gone by countless names throughout history. The concept of carelessly changing ONE thing and the ripples it causes reach WAY further into the world than you’d ever calculate. Kick a stone on a sidewalk. Smash a single dandelion. Drive 10 miles per hour slower for ten minutes. Things change.
People meet. People die. Things literally explode.
Now apply that to the actions of just three people over the course of just one day…or the actions of just ONE person, but consider how the falling dominos of the Butterfly Effect can move in reverse. See. Already a real mind-fuck, isn’t it? That’s exactly what we thought at first, too.
If you are one of the people throughout history who have gotten close enough in proximity to the Formula once activated, once actuated, like we did—considering and instantly understanding these kinds of things become second nature. Even automatic. It’s almost as if I don’t just understand the variables, I see the outcomes. Almost instantly with a second’s focus, I can see a thousand outcomes shattering forth from any incident, any action. New moments in the future are instantly formed as old ones that were solidly in place crumble. The various outcomes crash and smash into other explosions of possible outcomes…and by the time it all lands, you are standing in present day reality. Now, how it is exactly that we can see or get mental impressions of incidents that have not occurred yet, or move back and forth between different versions of the present is a complete mystery. But it has something to do with exposure to the formula…that much I am certain of.
Creeping Jesus! Suddenly, I peer out the window here and see Tom Howe across the street. This wouldn’t feel so out of place, except that Tommy…my Tommy, is not only 1900 miles away, but in a hospital. I mean it really, really seems like Tommy…but maybe 15 years younger. Same clothes he would have worn in high school, same white jock-style baseball cap and determined walk. But clearly not a 32 year old man. This was a kid; a youngin’. And he was walking straight towards me. Without explaining, purely based on what I’ve told you already, you can imagine the issues this could cause, can’t you? You can start to, anyways.
“If it IS Tommy,” I think out loud, “Even a Tommy from 15 years ago, he already would have known me, so it is possible that he recognizes me.” The bottom line to this one, though, is that I AM now 15 years OLDER and sporting a full beard. Even if he COULD recognize the “me from now”…ah, it can’t happen. The “me of now” doesn’t exist to him yet. Here and now, in Three for Five reality, it all makes perfect sense.
We all began to appreciate the true gravity of what “everything will change” really meant a long time back. Wait. Maybe it’s a long time FROM NOW, and I am the one who is seeing things from behind?
No, stop. DON’T OVER-ANALYZE. Over-complication is the Devil’s Magic Carpet. Mark Wolfe taught me that in THREE realities, little does he know. Valuable information if none of my “me’s” don’t completely write off the sentiment in a bout of “I-know-best-mania”…making that life-saving lesson completely unknown to the current me who is really the one who needs it…
NO! STOP SWITCHING! Stop with all the then, now, me, me’s, forward, backward…shit, you see how easily it is to get dangerously lost in this line of thought. It can last for days or even weeks. It’s like some form of catatonia.
I have to get up and physically distract myself with a cigarette just to stop a possible rift and my head from blowing wide-open. The brain, as we unfortunately learned, is like a melon in a microwave; too much, too fast, and KA-BLOOM!
“Ha ha!” I think to myself, “See! I’ve stopped it…for now—so no brain explosions!”
Not nearly as reassuring a thought if you take it word by word. I continue inside my skull, “Just thinking this shit could end the entire world…and you want to sit here and ponder life… FUCKING MORON! Your adventures sure haven’t made you much wiser…” It was about all of the self-flagellation I could dish out in under a minute. I KNEW the rules; had learned the hard way.
I’ve seen a literal genius try to do the mental math it takes to really digest five minutes in “me of then” time vs. “me of here/now” time and watched his body start to wretch in terminal confusion just before his brain redecorated the walls of “The Lees’” Humboldt Park apartment. Sssss…shla-POW! Big Lee and Little Lee never officially forgave us for the mess.
To LAURA MASTERSON, Jan 5th, 2013
From THE DOG PALACE, Chicago
Not to write you only to bother you, but yes, I needed to bother you a little more. In case you’re wondering, I’ve yet to toss myself out the 23rd floor window of “The Dog Palace” here on posh Michigan Ave., so I suppose I’m all right for now. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you treating me like family…SAYING it is one thing when we’re all schwilling down rum and cokes around the Christmas tree and cleaning up cat puke, but actually being there for a non-blood sibling with an ever-evolving crisis is a real horse of another color. I just KNEW I wasn’t screwing Big Bri when I introduced you two. You are a winner. And I mean that.
Boy, that letter was a kick to the groin to come across. Got to love being simultaneously reminded of happy times that don’t exist anymore and dark times that aren’t that far behind you. Shit…that reminds me—it’s about time to try and fill you in.
AT THIS early juncture it’s appropriate for me to pose a very central question to you. When is the last time you really fully considered and answered the following question with total honesty?
“Are You Happy?” It’s really something if you try saying it out loud. Try it.
“AM I HAPPY?”