to begin at the beginning, click here
by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
1) Better Than Sex
It’s all that matters.
It’s better than sex.
It’s who I am.
Why I’m alive.
It’s music; it’s dance; it’s dross transmuting not just to gold, but more: through time and beyond, constantly sculpting it.
No kidding. Wednesdays now, and Saturdays, I stand on a stage at the Y or another community center, and on Tuesdays and Sundays, I hold court at the shop.
For the moment, I have this incredible gift. It’s not something I expected or worked for. It just happened. I bend, whisper, sing, shout—and a radiant light surrounds and then emanates from people, glimmering and glimmering. Outside the wind blows; waves crash upon the shore (and presumptuous as it sounds, I can tell), trees tremble and leaves and dust swirl about the streets. While inside, hearts and minds spring wide open. Pure and perfect souls burst from hardened husks.
You have to try it. Stand on a stage and spin what’s uniquely inside you with what’s truly out there. You can’t go wrong. The giddy beauty and awful power come on their own. It’s me and not me: You and not you: it is marvelous, unending flux.
2) Mirror, Mirror
It’s taken me a while to notice, so thrilled have I been, so wrapped up in my newfound skills—but: Carlos, Stephanie, Maggie and her “occasional boyfriend,” Lyle (whose existence makes me sick with jealousy)—all treat me with a hesitant politeness and weird respect.
Of course the regulars and newcomers are deferential. Last week, old Mr. Downey and old Mr. Hedlund actually declared they would retroactively pay full price! But I said, no, no, eighty percent from now on was plenty.
For a while there, Carlos approached me as if on bended knee. But he’s adjusting. After each show, he hugs me gently, tells me how fantastic I was, and always asks, Can he do anything for me? Would I like him to stick around?
“For what?” I laugh. Once, after an especially ecstatic performance, I remember, Carlos kissing me and marveling in a choked voice.
But oddly ever since, his presence, his gaze, even his touch barely register. Only when I asked him to handle RWR’s finances, and of course, the shop’s too, did we seem to be on the same wave length.
“Are you sure?” Carlos asked. “Because, you know, I’ve got plans.”
And I in my separate, all-absorbing, little world, said, “Right. I know you’ve got plans. So hire an accountant.”
The money, the crowds, the blinding awe envelope me. I have to calm down. Or else, I’m too giddy to travel from here to there. And I do, after all, have business to attend to. At six am, I bless the bread dough before an audience. Some thirty people show up to watch as I knead it vigorously for five or ten minutes. And then at ten am and four pm, I do this little benediction-thing where I drizzle chocolate on éclairs, which are then passed out to everybody in the store. They wait and watch while I eat mine first.
This evening, after the éclair and before dinner, I slipped up to the apartment to do the souped-up stair machine I bought last week. With all the metaphysical energy I’ve got resonating, I’ve decided to work on my cardio-vascular system before and after all performances. I’m starting to look pretty good. The big change came the minute Carlos stopped force-feeding me.
Right away, I dropped five, maybe even ten, pounds. So, when Maggie knocks on the apartment door, flouncing in, to perch on the coffee table, I get flustered and blush.
“Don’t mind me,” she says. “Breathe!”
“No need to suck it in anymore, Malcolm. You’re starting to look almost normal. When someone gets that fat within a few weeks—I mean, hour by hour, gaining weight right in front of my eyes—maybe it likewise just melts off once you quit eating.”
“You’re welcome.” Then she bounces up and clicks her heels to stand facing me as I work the machine. Palms out, she says, “I’m here to say, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been a jerk. And as of right now, I won’t act like that.”
“It’s like we’re so amazed at what you’re doing, we don’t know what to say.”
“All I know is everybody’s being nice to me for a change, and I like it.”
“We need to treat each other as regular friends. At least, you and I do.”
“All right,” I nod. “I’ll try.”
“Everything’s happening at once, and if we’re not careful,” Maggie says, “it’s going to get fucked up before it even gets going.”
“So we’ll be careful.”
“Except as a rule, none of us are careful types. That’s my point,” Maggie says. “Everyone’s tiptoeing around when we should be yelling and screaming.”
“Not me. I don’t yell. I don’t scream.”
“Well, I do,” Maggie said. “Which is exactly why you need me.”
3) Sublime Forces
Occasionally, I still panic. A momentary relapse. But once I’m out there, arms spread, hair streaming, Truth and Light lifting me up, up, up, I can do no wrong. Spiritually, I somersault as Sublime Forces play tag in my veins. And the crowd, whether in Skokie or Wicker Park, the De Paul area or U. of C. is right there with me. We’re all laughing and crying with joy!
Sometimes I go too fast; I’m overcome from the start. But then, with a wince, if I concentrate, if I fix myself, I can get it back. Often, I focus on one person. Our eyes meet. There is a shiver. A sigh. I catch it and lose it, and then magically spin from my solar plexus. Who needs to say anything? The whole building, every floor and ceiling, beam and board, reverberates.
“What else is there?” I ask on tiptoes, tears streaming down my burning, beatified face. “My Lord.” As everyone gathers his things and departs, money and more money floods in.