It's hot, and the rain sloshes over my foul-weather gear as I splash through the streets of Noumea. I clutch the package of hot French bread and rolls under my arm. A plastic garbage bag keeps the goodies dry. Another day in Paradise. I stand in the rain and watch a string of cars whiz around the sharp curve, bumper to bumper. Cars of every description, splashed with rain and mud, taking their owners to work.
Four cars with whites driving, one with a black driver (filled to the brim), two with Orientals, white, black, Orientals, black again. The total for the string is 18 white, 8 black, 9 oriental and mixed. There is a break and I run across the road into the Pilotage. Except for taxies, you hardly ever see a black person driving a car in Papua New Guinea or the Solomons. Here, in Noumea, the proportion of black, oriental, white car drivers is almost equal to the local population spread. Interesting. Despite the claims of the hate group literature and the pinko journalists in Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine, the Melanesians here have more freedom, more goods and services and a better education than their brethren in any of the so-called independent Melanesian countries of the Pacific.
I climb down the ladder and get into the Avon. I slide the garbage bag with the goodies under the forward apron and yank on the starter cord. Outboards always work for me. Except when it is pouring rain. I adjust the choke and yank and pull and heave and jerk until I'm gasping for breath. I plop down on the tube and stare menacingly at the outboard, thinking of chucking it over the side. I lean forward and carefully, gently, give it one slow tug. It fires right up. I motor slowly out past the big black pilot boats.
Christ! The god-damned Secret Service is out even in this rain! Standing on the pier like a soggy statue, watching me smuggle fresh baked croissants out to my boat.
Louis pokes his head out Dragon's hatch as I approach and he waves at me, "Coffee Ready?" he shouts over the rain and the outboard, his windblown silver hair and quizzical expression makes me grin.
"Sure, come on over." I shout and continue towards Moira.
As I shake off the water and pull the foul weather gear off, the morning newspaper falls out of my T-shirt. On its cover are the banner headlines "Entre Deux Depressions" and a satellite view showing twin hurricanes. They are white swirling eyes on either side of the long nose of New Caledonia. We are perched on the lower end of the nose of the imaginary face. Anchored in a nostril.
"Whhhhooooooeeeee, This is what I call rain!" Louis howls as he comes alongside and leaps out of his dinghy all in one move.
"Hi, Louis," Freddy calls from the companionway. "How's George this morning?"
"Still asleep," Louis struggles out of his rain gear and follows me below.
"Have a look at this," I pass him the paper.
"God-Damn. Look at those babies will ya." He stares at them for a moment. "Hey, that's wild, just like you said yesterday." We were looking at the weather map at the Pilotage and I told him of a remarkable satellite image I had once seen of twin hurricanes in the Caribbean. About the time I was saying this, the weather department was actually receiving the photograph now on the front page of the newspaper.
"Yeah. This photograph is the twin to the one I saw in the Caribbean," I say as Freddy pours us hot steaming mugs of coffee. We dig into the French pastry.
"So what happened next? Was it bad?"
"Naw. They kind of work on each other like two wheels grinding along one edge, slowing each other down." I hope.
"Well not even to worry, then," he turns to page two.
"Would you believe the fishermen are out there this morning?" The fishermen are the Secret Service men who stake out the harbor and watch the yachts. They dress like bums and try to look like they are just casually fishing with their cane poles. But they show up like clock-work at their assigned posts, have shifts with others dressed exactly the same, and all have expensive fiberglass cane poles which are all alike.
"Yeah, I'd believe it," Louis says slurping his coffee, turning the page of the newspaper. "You gotta remember I come from Hungary and we had plenty of those assholes over there."
"Last week I was walking by the one who sits on the sewer pipe at the corner of the bay. I stopped to take his photo - you know, local scene with fisherman placidly shagging a line in the sewer outfall - and this guy sees me and kind of turns away so I can't get a shot of his face. Well, I walk around the other side and he turns back away again and I dart back and snap the shot. You should have seen him. Was he pissed. He must have thought his cover was blown. He got up and stomped off. When he pulled up his line he had no hook on it. No bait, no hook, just a bobber and sinker. Can you believe it? Two hours later his replacement is there with the same pole." I laugh.
"Yeah, I'd believe it, but you better not mess with those guys. You hear what happened to Cheap Gene?" Louis looks up at me.
"No." Cheap Gene is another yachtie, nicknamed because of his reluctance to spend any of his ample financial resources on reciprocating drinks for the ones Louis buys him.
"Well, he and his girl were walking back from dinner about 10 at night. Over there, by the parking lot, this big black car pulls up alongside and some joker sticks his head out the window and says, 'Get in, we want to have a talk with you. We're with customs.' But they don't show any ID or badges and Gene knows a lot of classified stuff 'cause of his computer business. So he tells his woman - 'Run' and she takes off as fast as she can go."
"Where was this?" Freddy asks.
"Just there at the head of the bay, next to the road. OK, so she's running like crazy and Gene just stands there. Smart, huh? Always split up, it confuses them. The driver tells the guy in the back to go after her and he tries to get out. Gene waits till the guy is half out of the door and kicks the door closed. He's a karate expert, black belt and everything. The door clobbers the guy in the neck and arm and he falls out onto the street unconscious. So the driver is so dumb he swings open his door and starts to get out. Gene's standing right there so he slams the door on the guy's head. Two gone. The third guy gets the hint and just sits there while Gene walks off." Louis finishes his coffee and shakes his head.
"One of the secret services?" Freddy says.
"Who knows? But it don't pay to mess around with those guys." Which is Louis' way of saying I shouldn't have photographed the 'fisherman.'
"Actually, I don't mind them watching at all. One of the yachts got ripped off at the Club Circle Nautique over Christmas. They lost a diamond ring. When the owner reported it, the officials had a complete list of comings and goings on the wharf including descriptions and license plate numbers of everyone who was there. They even knew the names of the people who got on and off the boat for the whole week and the exact times they were there." I select another croissant.
"They get back the ring?" Louis looks out at the rain.
"As a matter of fact, they did," I sip my coffee thinking how sometimes paranoia helps.
"So you guys are going to the Isles of Pines next week?" Louis changes the subject. There is no way he sees anything good about spooks.
"Yup. A week on the Pearl of the Pacific with Yves and friends." I butter my croissant.
"No good hurricane holes there." Louis observes.
"It's only a couple of hours run to Baie du Prony." I mumble around the flaky crust.
"Not if the wind is from the north." Louis points out.
"Where are you and George going?" Freddy asks.
"North. I know this place just about 10 miles up the coast where there are turkeys, deer, sheep, and I'd love to get me a chunk of venison. Trouble is the farmer patrols the area all the time with this big pack of dogs." Louis looks thoughtful.
The rain cuts off and Louis heads back to the Dragon. "You know, Louis and George are only the fourth yacht we've ever really linked up with." I inspect the new hatches for leaks. "And in many ways they are the most experienced, the nicest, and the most like us."
Freddy comments, "Lets see. We've teamed up with Gypsy Cowboy, Ganesh, and Rozanante. Yup, Dragon is the fourth."
"Four. Out of all the yachts we've encountered. I guess we're antisocial or something."
"Not to worry," Freddy has picked up Louis' favorite saying.
I tap the barometer. Falling. Maybe that's why I'm feeling depressed. The rain starts again.
"No frowning," Freddy says. I look up at her and pull a deep frown. We both laugh but the depression deepens and I plop down at the dinette to read for awhile.
I pick up Gregory Bateson's "Mind and Nature" and look at the introduction. On page 19 Gregory says:
"I hold to the presupposition that our loss of the sense of aesthetic unity was, quite simply, an epistemological mistake."
Right. We dropped the idea of a oneness with our planet by mistake. Sure, Greg. On page 29 he says:
"Consequently, to make any statement of premise or presupposition in a formal and articulate way is to challenge the rather subtle resistance, not of contradiction, because the hearers do not know the contradictory premises nor how to state them, but of the cultivated deafness that children use to keep out the pronouncements of parents, teachers, and religious authorities."
In other words, nobody listens to your philosophy because it is philosophy and thinking is out of style these days. Well, I'll go along with you there, Gregory. I flip back and on Page 8, where he says:
"What's wrong with them?"
Meaning teachers who refuse to teach things of contextual importance, but also people in general who avoid thinking about odd things like oneness with the planet, the way things work in this reality.
In all of this, I hear the hollow echo of control systems. Like the secret services sitting out there in the rain, there are mind agents waiting for us to blunder off towards the unthinkable. Traps to keep us out of the forbidden realms of thought. Like suppressor genes that deaden key memories when they are not neaded.
Bateson has it wrong, wondering "What's wrong with them?" There's nothing wrong with them. That's the way the system works. The real question is, what's wrong with Bateson? Or with me. Why didn't the control systems work with us?
Control systems interlock the doings of the hominids just like control systems within our cellular environment keep the trillions of little beasts doing what they must do to continue to be our bodies. That's not a mistake. That's not wrong. The cells have to obey the unknowable edicts of the organization. Bateson never discovers control systems are supposed to be there. He never suspects he is the oddball for even thinking about writing a book like "Mind and Nature."
"Wow, listen to that!" Freddy puts down her book as the rain thunders down. I get up and go have a look outside. Solid water everywhere. Visibility barely to the bow of the Moira. Still not much wind, however. Freddy is back inside her spy novel, gently stroking Dr. Walter the Cat.
I thumb through Bateson's book looking for action amid all the discussion. I spot some quotation marks. It is a conversation he has with his daughter. She says, referring to the unity of mind and nature, how come nobody else has worked this out? He answers:
"There has to be a reason why these questions have never been answered. I mean, we might take that as our first clue to the answer - the historical fact that so many men have tried and not succeeded. The answer must be somehow hidden. It must be so: That the very posing of these questions always gives a false scent, leading the questioner off on a wild goose chase. A red herring."
I read this again. There is something about what he is trying to say. My first flash is the answer is hidden alright, but it is hidden by.. by.. Pffft. The idea is gone out of my head. I sit there staring at the book. The words have become just gibberish. I remember Lewis Thomas' essay "The Scrambler in the Mind." Lewis said:
"This brings me to my theory about the brain, my brain anyway. I believe there is a center someplace, maybe in the right hemisphere, which has a scrambling function similar to those electronic devices attached to the telephones of important statesmen which instantly convert all confidential sentences to gibberish."
Damn! The more I try to figure out what's wrong with the picture Bateson is presenting the more slippery it becomes. It's right there on the tip of my mind. Bateson and Thomas notice the same control systems. But what are they, why are they, how do they work? When a hominid tries to look at the controls, the brain either turns on the scrambler or is diverted off onto some parallel track.
I get up and go the galley, open the freezer and fish out a Pepsi. "Want one?"
"Um," Freddy says. I get one out for her, too.
Maybe we are looking at the whole thing the wrong way. Bateson, Lewis and the others have set up a paradox from which there is no escape.
The wind is coming up a bit. I climb the cockpit ladder and peer out into the rain. In the Southern Hemisphere, if you face the wind, stretch out your left arm out to the side and point, your finger will be aimed at the eye of the hurricane. But what about when there are twin hurricanes, one on either side? Well, it looks like they are just going to battle it out and leave us reasonably unscathed. Wet, but not blown apart.
I stare into the sheets of rain thinking my scrambler has turned me off the problem of control systems again. I hardly noticed. Like the hurricane, when you face the force head on the real center is off to the side, to the left, over the horizon of your perceptions.
Sometimes it really does seem as if there is some lurking force just there, outside our normal levels of thinking, preventing us from trespassing on forbidden areas - a secret service of consciousness. And lately, in my case, the controls have been even more direct, tighter, physical. I am kept busy and remote from working on this report.
Last week, everything aboard Moira crashed at once. The transmission on her main diesel went down, the outboard got a clogged water duct, the hatches had to be replaced, the freezer leaked all its freon out. Yves left for Paris just when our conversations were getting really interesting.
I feel like a kid held at arms length by some big, powerful bully, my swinging arms almost able to reach my goal but missing by inches. And the powerful force is personal as hell. Even as I think this I realize it's not true. Oh, the force is there. You can bet on it. But it's not personal. Everyone is held by it. But not everyone is trying to punch it's lights out.
It keeps us all too busy to think. Even people who really don't have much of anything to do. They are always busy, too busy to stop and spend time thinking or talking about serious subjects. Especially not about how hominid control systems work. Got to watch TV, go to the store, take care of the cat, read the rest of a spy novel, straighten up the closet, talk to a few friends on the phone, and on and on. Modern Hominids only stop to think about serious topics when something goes drastically wrong. Bateson's deafness of children.
The rain slows a bit and I go outside again to see which way the wind is blowing. Giant black clouds churn overhead, going nowhere in particular. I can vaguely make out the stone wharf and the fisherman's post. Nobody is there right now. Imagine that.
There is an exponential information explosion within the vast cultural language mind of the hominids. Man's perceptual horizons have dropped away, revealing limitless reefs and shoals of information: ideas on every side. We're too busy to think and there's too much to think about.
Daily, synchronicity becomes more common. Communications at the speed of light allow the nodes of human thought to interlock with more and more other people. Scientists working on particle theory can, via their computer network, be in simultaneous contact with each other no matter where they are physically located on the planet. So long as they are located in front of their computer terminal.
Each individual human is like a brain cell, a neuron in this fantastic being. Each year the neurons grow more axons, more tentacles to touch other cells. The major TV networks - linked to the higher centers of thought - are like whole ganglia of cells transmitting images, ideas, thoughts, orders, controls, to the entire mental being of Man. And each year the individual neurons lose a little more individual mobility and choice. Mankind's controls dominate a little more, until every act of the individual's life is under strict control: what to wear, where to go, what time to be there, the moment to return to a selected place, things that are right or wrong to say or even think about.
Wow. When I visualize this, I see mankind as an interlocked network of thought encasing the giant sphere of Earth. And I realize there is, here, another pattern which connects.
Walter the Cat announces lunch time by casually biting my foot.