Richard Thieme, Foam
Publisher: Exurban Press
Length: 573 pp.
ISBN: 978-0692507353; 978-0692475515;
What does it mean to be human? What is the human condition? Can a person be transformed by the power of love, even if they come from another planet?
These central concerns of the novel are also the concerns of the unusual protagonist of FOAM: extraterrestrial Jack Teufel, who appears in the sagebrush in Utah one day in a flash of light and travels to a city “somewhere in the upper Midwest” in the middle of a bitter winter.
The tale follows Jack as he practices being human by using the internet, cable TV, and other media, seeking to understand human beings, and wandering into serendipitous contact with a skein of characters whose diverse paths fold into a satisfying and unexpected unity.
At the same time, his more-than-human brain broadcasts his encounters to a vast galactic audience for whom “humans are the funniest species in seventeen galaxies... and one of the sexiest.”
A student of improv, Jack tries to always say “yes.” But the diverse characters he encounters — including Heidi, a masseuse, Bobby Jakus, who channels discarnate spirits, James John Gillespie, a new-age guru, Bunny Isadora, a coffee-shop habitue who claims he is a “walk-in” from another planet, Dade, a barista for the ages, and many more — don’t always make it easy.
Chapter Eight: The Indian and the Fortune Teller
Bobby Jakus , one of a panoply of characters searching for identities and destinations, reaches out to discarnate spirits through automatic writing and does not always get what he is looking for.
Standing at a gas pump in front of a convenience store, his hand on the cold nozzle, Bobby Jakus wondered if he were going crazy. If I am, he thought, it’s all right with me.
He was certainly a long way from clarity or balance, a long way from the far shore toward which he might not even be sailing. How could he know, prior to arrival? How could the fragments of a mind know in advance if they would coalesce again, when the mind is the means by which one knows? Because if they don’t... so Bobby J navigated by faith through dark waters, shrinking from the cold spray — cold, yes, he knew he was cold, that was an ineluctable fact, calibrated to quantifiable feedback — Bobby lapsed from his internal focus which kept him unaware of the cold and found himself in his body, dancing in the frigid wind in a vain effort to stay warm. He watched the flurry of dollars and gallons and listened to the periodic ring of a bell on the slow pump. The bell, he believed, was an echo of the voice of an angel here in the grosser material world, chiming glad tidings in the bleak midwinter. Ring ring! Ring ring! Every ring was a note of hope: Hold on, Bobby! You may be more frozen than chosen, but hang on! We’re with you!
Those words were a paraphrase of what had been written through his cramped hand, translating the message through the course circuitry of his body/brain. He wrote in a trance in a shaky ragged script. He got the idea from reading books -old books, the original SPR, Myers, Lodge, Balfour, William James, then Yeats. They taught him how to let go and slip into an altered state like a suicide sliding into the icy waters of the lake. He loved and feared that tainted state, not knowing why. He negotiated a compromise with his crotchety feelings and vowed he would never go there during daylight, he would discipline himself to wait until sundown like a drinker watching the yardarm and the sun. Unaccountably his memories of Alaracon’s recent communication set off qualms of anxiety fluttering in his chest. He felt as if his sternum were a wishbone, waiting to be split.
He didn’t need spirits to tell him he’d get the short end.
Anxiety swelled in his chest like expanding gas. He felt as if an elevator had suddenly dropped too fast. He needed a distraction. He jittered at the gas pump as far as holding the nozzle would allow, dancing in a semi-circle, covering his disquiet with incongruous behavior.
The spirits had rules, but he couldn’t always figure them out. They almost never spoke directly during the day. Maybe it was something about wavelengths or calibrating vibrations between their states. At most they impinged on his thoughts, mostly with impressions, manifesting a sense of presence around the curve as it were of his mind. He could feel them hanging back in the shadows, waiting for the right time. Mostly they encouraged him or-if they articulated words he could hear-gave advice. Watch out for that Ford Taurus! Stay on the curb! Turn at the next corner!
Sometimes they chastened him with stern directives.
He always took their advice. If he had failed to see the Taurus, the voice would say, see? We helped you avoid a disaster. Or if he stayed on the curb and nothing seemed to happen, the voice would say, see? We kept you safe. Or, a word to the wise. Or, a stitch in time.
The clunk of the gas tank coming full shut off the flow. He squirted in a little more, making it even, and went inside and paid with cash. The middle-aged half-bald Indian man, Lakshman Noorkhan, made change instead of conversation. He did not enjoy working at the Stop-n-Go but was happy to have a job. He spent long days and some nights selling gas, candy, pepperoni sticks and doughnuts to people like Bobby Jakus. A radio played behind thick glass plastered with ads for the lottery. Should he buy a ticket? Bobby asked himself and whichever spirit was in the shop. He left coins and three singles in the depression and stood still, listening to faint pop rock, then looking at a cappuccino machine across the store, fixing his attention on an arbitrarily chosen... thing... a material thing... so their guidance, if they chose, could slide into his mind through the back door as it were.
The coffee dispenser took on the look of a cappuccino machine that was looked at. A person without discernment might think he was staring at nothing. Bobby would have replied, not! It was like a crystal ball, a thing on which to focus while boundaries wavered, then went down. Then you had better stay there and not look directly. Then you had better let it happen, that was all. Then you could pick up whatever, but a guy had to be careful, he had learned, thoughts and messages looked the same to the up-top part of the mind. Remote viewers knew that too. Discernment was imperative, and even then, they made plenty mistakes.
Lakshman Noorkhan watched from behind the glass. The young man’s behavior was no more bizarre than most. Nobody, nothing said a word. No one wanted him to get rich quick. So he took his money and left and got back into his battered Dodge Dart, waiting before he pulled away.
Again, no one spoke. The air was dead, heavy. His breath fogged the windshield. No marks appeared in the mist. He turned on the ignition, then the heater, and watched the vapor dissipate.
They saved him a ton of money. Twelve times this month he might have bought tickets but no one told him to go ahead. Later Alaracon said his numbers would have lost.
Jakus pulled into traffic and abruptly turned right, heading south, away from home, thinking, Hmmm. Why did they want me to do that?
Copyright © 2016 by Richard Thieme