Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will They Have Boudin in Heaven?



Houma Louisiana April 1980

Casey is coming around the bend pretty fast. This is vampire country, right out of an old Anne Rice novel with big old trees bearded with moss and weird little Cajun towns. These twisty old roads that run along the bayou Black were made for a nice little sports car but not some clunky old Chevy Suburban with big boxes of flowers loaded in the back. I think this road would be spooky at night, but right after a heavy rain its steamy swampy thickness is suffocating and suffused with spring flowers. Casey is laughing and telling me a story about something, but I’m only half listening, because I’m thinking about God. I had a really deep prayer in the morning service and I have this feeling of God watching over me.

Casey whips around a bend, with the slow moving bayou Black on the right and on the left an old tree is hanging half over the road, heavy with blossoms and Spanish moss. Casey has his head turned to tell me the punch line of his story and we hit the bend hard.

The pavement is covered with these soggy pink blossoms that have been trodden into mush by all the passing traffic. Me, the old Minnesota boy, the old camp hand at driving in iron range blizzards, feels it before it happens. We’re hitting this curve all wrong.

On the other side of the big tree is a country store of some kind with a rusty “Chesterfield” cigarette sign and a chalkboard advertising home made boudin, which is a kind of Cajun rice and spicy meat sausage. I just love boudin.

The Chevy sails straight off the road, smack down the river bank at a good forty or fifty miles an hour.

When these things have happened to me, I’ve always found that your life doesn’t pass in front of your eyes. That’s bullshit. Anybody in mortal danger watching his life pass in front of his eyes isn’t going to be paying attention to the right things. You should be thinking and looking intuitively for the “out”. The trouble is, if you’re in the passenger seat of a car, or even a big airliner, there’s not a lot you can do, except sit like a little lamb and stay out of the way while the guy at the controls tries to solve his little problem. You don’t grab at stuff. You don’t cry out to God. You don’t cry out to your mama. Sometimes you laugh. Cussing helps, but only if you don’t normally cuss that often.

Casey who never cusses is going “Whoa! Whoa! Aw fuck!” When I hear that last word I know its serious. What really does happen is your mind slows down. That much is really true. At least it is for me. I’m a survivor by nature. My whole central nervous system is on high alert looking for the one hole in this situation that will get us out of this mess, as we fishtail down the river bank at a sixty degree angle and Casey is yelling “Fuck!” and all my brain is focused with Zen master precision on this moment. But what the left side of my brain is thinking is “Golly Moses. We’re hitting this fast. I wonder if we’re going to tip over?”

As if I had acquired mysterious telekinetic powers the car responds by tipping up on its right side wheels. The left side is airborne. And we haven’t lost any speed and Casey is whacking the brakes with both feet like a pogo stick trying to wrestle this beast to the ground, and the Minnesota boy in me is wondering if that’s really the right thing to be doing in a skid. Meanwhile I’m also thinking “Gosh all fish hooks. It looks like we’re going to tip over. We’re heading for the water. I wonder if we’re going to flip into the water too?”

The right wheels careen over something big in the grass and now they’re airborne too as the car barrel rolls upside down, four wheels up in mid air and still traveling with the drive wheels howling as we sail out over the water. “Wowie Zowie,” I’m thinking as the shore disappears behind us. “That’s really something there. I don’t think this is going so good. No. We’re not getting out of this. Hope we don’t die. Well. Here we go.”

The flying, inverted Chevy suburban belly flops in the current, flat on its roof as we dangle upside down in our seat belts like a goofy carnival ride. The impact compacts the roof violently, instantly crushing the windshield. A blast of upside down glass and funky swamp water rushes in on us.

I had an interesting discussion recently with one of the lay ministers of my current church, the Unitarian Church. The Unitarian Church seems to be that calm place where the rational, the socially liberal, and spiritually wounded gather to give God a last chance. We were having a conversation about ego and the possibility of an afterlife, which we both agreed could be true, and certainly desirable, but probably not true. He said “Who are you really? How do you define what you would be when you die? When you’re a young man, you think about sex all the time. When you get older, you worry about making a living. If you live to be old enough you forget how to worry about anything anymore. Which person would you be in the afterlife? Who is the real you?” and I agreed. I’ve already been many people. I postulated that if there is an afterlife, it might be tailored to the ego that we had when we died. But when you think about it, that’s awful if you die at a low point in your life. You’d be depressed there too. Would you worry about money? Or getting laid? Or finding good coffee? How would you pay for it? Would you need a job? Would it be a crappy job or a good job? Would you stay married or could you play around a little?

When I dream, my dream self always seems a thinner version of myself. My dream experiences seem thinner than my world experiences. What I think of as my personality is blown about by the winds of events and experience. I change from day to day. But behind it there is always a sense of a continuous me stretching back in time. What would consciousness be, unburdened by the limits of the world? Boundlessly creative? Or afraid? When waking from a dream, there is always the sense of having stepped from a thinner, more fluid reality to a deeper and more solid one. Losing the limits of the flesh, if consciousness goes on, would it be a deeper and unbounded reality as well? A form of pure consciousness, unbounded by the flesh. Would that be God?

We’re hanging head down in our seat belts, upside down, as the car tips down from the engine end and slightly up from the tail end. The flower boxes we picked up at the bus station have popped open and dumped the bundles of carnations that are floating around our ears like a funeral wreath.

As the rising water laps over the top of my head all I can think to say is “This stinks.”

“Let’s get out of here!” yells Casey, grabbing at his seat buckle.

In the movies cars sink like a brick in seconds, with the hapless passengers beating at the window glass, screaming for air. I don’t know why they do that. Cars are pretty buoyant. In the fifties, they even made a car that could double as a motor boat. To sink a car fast, you have to hit the water straight and hard like coming off a diving board. We’re luckier than that. I reach over and roll down my door window using a hand crank. Then I hit the seat belt catch and tumble head down into the soup of glass, cut flowers and swamp. I grab a breath and scoot out the window and I’m bobbing in the gentle current of the bayou. Flowers are all over the place drifting placidly away. My wristwatch has stopped.

On the river bank people from the country store are standing on the shore, mostly laughing. “You boys all right?”

“Yeah.” Casey yells. “You got a phone in there?”

The old man waves to us as we start fumbling our way to the riverbank. “You kids just cain’t know how often that happens on that ol’ curve.”

As my feet finally touch solid mud down there I get this huge shaky feeling as the thing starts to hit home. As I step on the road, I just gotta ask even if its the dumbest thing there is to ask. "How much for your boudin?"



C. Sanchez-Garcia

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Garce. I love the way you slip effortlessly from your adrenaline-inducing tale of a brush with death to philosophizing - and back!

    My dream self usually seems as real and solid as my waking self. Sometimes in dreams I ask myself whether I'm dreaming or not. After I wake, memories sometimes hang around in the back of my mind for hours, interspersing themselves with perceptions.

    I've never had this kind of brush with death in reality. But actually I have in my dreams.

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  2. Garce, we're all very glad you survived! And I'm sure you're right about the way consciousness works in situations like this. Good post.

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  3. Hi Lisabet!

    My dream images hang around with me in the day time as well, especially during times when I feel most creative. Its as if there are tides of awareness moving down below and sometimes the more superficial bumps into the deeper and that always seems to be the best time to write.

    Garce

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  4. Hi Jean!

    I'm sure you've had some experiences that were very intense like this, like the one you described here a few weeks ago. You know how it is.

    Garce

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