Philadelphia Metropolis

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The Pagan Fire

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By Jerome fire0006.JPGPrzybylski                         

You see these kiddies who leap from sidewalk-square to sidewalk-square.  Everyone knows the stakes: step on a crack and break your momma's back.   And then you see these homeless magi who conduct the cosmic clockwork from a park bench.  The sunrise.  The sunset.  They're also deeply staked. They know that all it would take for the world to end is one false move.   Like crossing left-leg over right-leg, or breaking their daily pigeon feeding routine.

It's funny and not so funny. Personally, I have rarely flattered an artist or a comedian by calling him "crazy."  When you have mental illness in your blood-lines, you develop an insider's concern.

Imagination is like fire.  Only the controlled-burn serves a sane purpose.

Okay.  Okay.  I live in a rooming house in Philly.  I've got stories of drifters who found their way back to "reality", and drifters who succumbed to their haunt.  It's a place for men on the bubble.  One could even say that it's a place for men straddling worlds: the realm of Newtonian physics and the realm of pagan metaphysics.  Let me break it down.

You have the dominant daily realm of cause-and-effect that makes business and The Golden Rule the  "working" mentality.  Practical thinking! The Modern Way! Then there is the ancient realm of woof and warp, fickle-fates, and divine humors. That is the pre-Modern way.  Even learned Philadelphians, men of science, appeal to the latter when buying lotto tickets, betting on horses or playing an inspired game of poker. 

Well, I had an eerie feeling the night before the roaring fire.  It led me to YouTube videos of lions devouring wildebeest calves, and then hyenas' massing-in-force to drive the lions from their kill. A lesson in merciless nature.  I thought about it at yoga class in the morning.  I know.  I know.  I was supposed to be thinking about dovetailing into an urbane Judeo-Christian idealist. Lions lying down with lambs from the Old Testament, the meek inheriting the earth from the New Testament, and Vitalists schmoozing Materialists from today's Intelligent Design handbook. But I kept thinking that maybe Nietzsche was right. Maybe we're not living in a Moral Universe and maybe love doesn't rule the field.  Maybe the dominant force is Will to Power.  Which like fire, can serve or get out of control.

Too much. I was taking a post-yoga nap when the fire alarms rang. How are you with tech's hypertrophied rod?  Do you jump when the phone rings? When the alarm clock clatters? Do you ever get tired of brute mechanisms?  By the time that I left my bedroom, there was acrid black smoke lacing the air. I walked against the current. I went towards the source of the toxic softness.  I have to say that even in a creaky old rooming house, a building grown eccentric with age, the corridors and doorways remain bold archetypical forms with supra-natural resonance.  Passage-way and threshold.

When I stepped into the old cigarette puffer's room at the aft end of the rooming house: flames dancing on the bed and blankets, and flames traveling atop the dirty clothes stuffed between bed and walls.  Flames that weren't scary because they were large.  Rather, flames that were scary because were liberated from any kind of man-serving purpose, accelerating with wild abandon, and hypnotically beautiful on their own fierce terms.

Well, this was it. I might as well have been looking into the jaws of a lion or hyena.  There was no moral appeal.  There was no petitioning for mercy.  And though my physical life wasn't in danger because I had ample time to flee,  my metaphysical life was in danger along with my yoga-mat, my library, my icons and my entire collection of tools that take me back to the future of Paganism.  But let me say something in deference to the old Roman Catholicism under which I was raised: the fire was pure appetite.  Pure lust. Pure gluttony.  Pure self-immolating fire, if you'll excuse the redundancy.

I fought the fire and the fire won. My deputies were a buck-naked drunk who'd been warned about sleeping in bed, and a 50- year-old idiot savant with glasses, beard and disability check.  We beat the fire down twice, but it continued to travel underneath the surface of things while smoke, the silent killer, poisoned the air. It took a cop to pull us away from the madness.

We landed in a Red Cross Shelter in West Philly for a month.  I got post-traumatic counseling.  The social worker suggested that I write about the experience.  Well, okay.  I've had trouble sleeping.  When I turn to the right I'm a hero who contained the dragon until the firemen arrived.   When I turn to the left I'm an infernal priest who merely molested the fire, beautiful as it was, with a promiscuous glee.  Either way, I was spellbound and mentally shy of being The Alpha Force. 

I did well?  I did badly?  I'm on the bubble when it comes to defining reality.  And I'm not just talking about the Metaphysical vs. Newtonian or the Vita list vs. Materialist hairballs. I'm talking about the abnormal vs. normal germ within myself.  Luckily, I'm back in the rooming house where everything and nothing is understood. There's a smoky mindcraft here, always on the verge of inflammation, and it feels like my home in the world.   

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