The Nth Degree of Me
by Ed Lynskey
part 1 of 2
I have this religious argument worked out with myself. Right or wrong, it goes something like this. Bosch revered his ape-gods. Goya loved his goat-devils. Da Vinci created his Madonna. Throughout the ages the objects of men’s worship have been fluid and subjective. To each his own, as it were.
This simple notion played through my mind as I worked. I sprayed burnt orange paint to set up on stainless steel surfaces. Messing up, I cursed a little. Using a chamois, I wiped away the orange peel area. Nothing but four smooth walls coated in burnt orange would do for me. With deft strokes, I touched up the marred spot.
“Perfect,” I said, stepping back to admire it all.
“Hey Vince, what’s up?”
Startled, I turned on my heels. My stunned look regarded the short, roly-poly man leaning a shoulder against the doorframe. It was Willis. My next-door neighbor had this annoying habit. He wandered into my house, invited or not. He spent more time tending my affairs than his own. He needed a wife. That level of persistence made him a top caliber psychiatrist but right now it irked me.
“Willis, didn’t we broker an agreement?” I asked him. Chagrin sharpened my words. “You knock on my door. I answer it, maybe.”
I may as well have been talking to the burnt orange. My fussy lecture sailed in one ear, then out the other. “What’s this monstrosity?” Unperturbed, Willis rapped his effeminate knuckles twice on the bulky steel door.
I frowned, chiding myself for not concocting a plausible cover story. “This is a walk-in freezer,” I replied, sticking with the truth.
“Hm. A walk-in freezer. In your basement. Well, well. Bizarre, no?”
I moved to correct him. “No. Idiosyncratic.”
Predictably, Willis rolled his sea-green eyes to exaggerate puzzlement. “Okay, I’ll bite. How did you wrestle that gargantuan freezer down those narrow steps?”
Wiping my brow with a sleeve, I sighed. Some days you wanted to throttle your therapist. “The freezer came as a mail order kit. I hauled down the parts and materials. Then, believe it or not, I did my own assembly. Any more questions?”
“Yep,” said Willis. “The freezer isn’t for a meat locker — you’re a self-professed vegetarian. Why, then pray tell, did you erect a subterranean walk-in freezer?”
My patience meter expired. Exasperation flared up, practiced the patience of a saint. “It’s my concept of a shrine,” I said at last.
Scratching an elbow, Willis had out the next logical query. “Your shrine to what?”
“Uh-oh.” Willis’ eyes ballooned. A fierce head wag showed his gravity. “I feared this might come to pass.” He licked his bleak lips. “You’ve regressed, Vince. Horrifically. The meds adjustment of the Halcion backfired on us.”
“Willis, you’ll catch an earful next Thursday afternoon,” I said. “Except then you’ll collect a cool three hundred dollars an hour for doing it.”
“Update. It’s three twenty-five,” said Willis. “A cost of living adjustment, just like Social Security. But I’m mesmerized, Vince. An overview now, please.”
“Can’t,” I said. “I’m making it up as I go. I’ve told everything I know. Stay tuned.”
“Hm. Vince, I’m concerned. Your Narcissism Complex has reared its ungainly head again. Did you realize that? Probably not...”
“Willis, take your concerns and stuff them,” I said. “Until Thursday, I’m free of your hooks. So, run along home now, Svengali.”
“I told you not to use that appellation. I resent it.” After stooping to retrieve an empty spray paint can, Willis read from its label. “Burnt orange?” His imperial eyebrow arched at me. “Why burnt orange? Why not royal purple? Or majestic red? Or celestial yellow, Your Excellency?”
I shrugged. “Largely symbolic, I suppose. Last night I dreamt of finding a burnt orange skull on an ice floe that had broken off the coast of Greenland. I took that to mean my shrine should copy similar specifications.”
“I see. We better take your dreams, too, in therapy. But for now, why a walk-in freezer for your shrine? Why not something less expensive and extravagant? A plywood shanty, for instance.”
“Too prosaic, too boring,” I replied. “Hell, did you know the Ancient Egyptians used plywood in their pyramids? Like my dream made clear, my shrine has to be exotic.”
True to form, Willis hastened to add a qualifier. “But only to you, Vince. Don’t overlook that not insignificant detail. As a mental health professional, I find it disturbing.”
“Well, this should make your balls tingle,” I said. “Once the paint dries, I’m plastering the freezer walls with photos of yours truly.”
“My God. He’s mad.” Paling to the color of wax, Willis gasped. Trembling fingers touched his lips. “You’ve tipped over the edge, Vince. Even I can’t aid you. Even experimental drugs can’t save you.”
Ignoring him, I pointed. “Over in that corner goes an altar. My most prized holy relic, one of the five hundred statues Nero plundered from the Delphi temple will go on it.”
Willis asked, “And you know this Delphi statue is such an antiquity because...?”
“Because the seller on Ebay said so,” I replied. “She’s sending the Delphi statue with a notarized certificate of its authenticity. Enough said.”
I horned in. “I mean it. I’ll hear no guff.”
Both slender hands shot up as a traffic cop signaling an urgent stop. “Don’t enlighten me about the freezing temperatures,” said Willis. “It’ll spice up our Thursday chat.”
“Fine. I’ll also invite you then to attend my hours of worship.”
My dramatic pronouncement fell on nonexistent ears. Willis had shot out of the walk-in freezer and scrambled up the stairway. I heard the door slam. Willis would do well to watch his own grip on reality, I mused. His mental stability teetered, no thanks to me.
Humming a self-penned psalm, I stepped out of the walk-in and ambled over to my makeshift workbench, a sheath of plywood placed on a pair of rickety sawhorses. From under the L” drill, I slipped out my copy of the Bible. Actually, I’d borrowed it from a room at a roachy motel just outside of New Orleans near torrid Lake Pontchartrain.
I wet-thumbed my way through its crinkly pages and stilted prose. The scripture I sought had been highlighted in yellow. My index finger ran down the Ten Commandments. Each one seemed straightforward if not tolerably reasonable to me. Number Two, however, gave me conniptions. My lips moved as my tense voice struggled through its meaning.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for, I, the Lord your God, am a vengeful God...”
My eyes broke off from completing the commandment which by now I knew by heart. An uptick in my pulse rate drove me to distraction. My palms sweated. Focusing inward, I calmed the chaos threatening to capsize my spirit.
The problem, as I saw it, was the lack of credible evidence. Perhaps, as Willis had posed in our chats, I took a worldview rooted too much in the concrete and tangible. Plainly put, I couldn’t very well worship what I couldn’t see. God was said to be amorphous and invisible. To believe took a leap of faith my legs couldn’t make.
After reassuring myself that my course of action was the only intelligent one, I strolled over and shoved the three-prong plug into the electrical outlet. The suspense mounting in me, I next hurried over to the freezer’s ON-OFF switch.
“Here goes nothing,” I said.
My antsy hand threw on the switch. Electric power jolted down the cord. Expecting the robust compressors to jump to life, instead I jumped. A percussive explosion sent up a shower of sparks and a cloud of smoke. Petrified, I acted only when the smell of burnt metal grew acrid. At the circuit box, I yanked the main switch down, cutting off the flow of electricity. The snarling noise dwindled. I felt relief.
I tugged out the freezer’s plug, then restored the general power. My knowledge of electricity primitive, I opted to summon a licensed, bonded electrician. The first name listed in the Yellow Pages was for an “Adam Antler.” The man taking my call identified himself as Adam. I detailed my dilemma. For a fat fee, he agreed to drive out within the hour. Reluctantly, I acquiesced.
In the meantime, I made the best use of my down time by readying my chapel. By running a fingertip over the burnt orange paint, I determined it had dried to the point of tacky. Adequate enough. Humming again, I carried two shoeboxes of photographs into the walk-in freezer. Every one of them had me as its subject. Pictures showed me as a baby, a child, an adolescent, and an adult. Admiring a recent portrait, I couldn’t get over how damn handsome and distinguished I’d grown. It sent a chill shivering down my back.
The tinny door chimes intruded on my self-absorption. Miffed by the distraction, I shuffled upstairs, tripping once, to admit Adam Antler, the tall, lanky electrician wearing an eye patch. He walked with a pronounced gimp and smelled of mothballs and peanut butter, an odd mixture. I decided not to like him.
“Adam will do fine,” he said, pumping my hand. “It’s biblical.”
I replied, “Likewise; Vince, and I hadn’t noticed.”
He gave me a funny look. “You got a bum walk-in freezer, eh, Vince?”
I’d resolved not to disclose my true intent with the freezer. Some people weren’t as broad-minded and tolerant as Willis. Of course, I paid him big bucks for a doctor-patient confidentiality. He had no choice but to keep his big yap shut — or go to jail.
My shrug was a resigned one. “Why should I pay outrageous meat locker fees?”
“I can see the logic in that,” said Adam. “Lead me to your pesky problem.”
With a flourishing sweep of my hand, I ushered the electrician down the carpeted steps into the cavernous basement dank despite the dehumidifier running full blast. He coughed into a fist. “Sort of dampish down here,” Adam said. “Yo, is this freezer a do-it-yourselfer?”
“Yep,” I said with some measure of pride. “Everything went baby butt smooth until I flipped on the switch. I hit my first snafu and decided to bring in an expert.”
“Phew. Electrical fire.” Vince ambled over to the heavy steel door and gave it a yank open. Setting down his toolbox, he craned his neck to inspect the walk-in’s interior. “Odd,” he said. “Did the kit come painted this shade of orange color? It looks psychedelic.”
Copyright © 2007 by Ed Lynskey