This One Time, 61

This one time I read this fairy tale about some kid or other who was playing chase with his sister. In the course of the game they ran three times counter-clockwise around the local church and ended up lost in the fairy realms, where they had to rely on the knowledge they’d been taught by stories they themselves had heard in order to rescue one another from danger and eventually find their way home.

As I recall, some of the dangers were all night dancing to injury and complete exhaustion to hypnotic music, unhealthy food and drink (either all flavor and no nutrition or dangerously potent and filling), a constant walk-through hallucination masking untold dangers, a twisted sense of how much time must have passed, and continually being kidnapped/relocated every time you fell asleep. And maybe waking up pregnant without so much as a by-your-leave.

I think I’ve been to that party a number of times.

Cynically speaking, that pretty much nails certain areas of town after sundown. And probably the whole Burning Man thing. But lately it occurs to me that covers the entirety of Western civilization, and America in particular. We’ve completely separated flavor from nutrition — to the point of genetically modifying good old potatoes to have a third fewer calories just so we can eat more goddamn fries. Somewhere around a quarter of the world’s population goes to bed hungry, and we invent food with less food in it. That’s a fairy thing all over, stealing the goodness out of food, leaving food that looks and tastes the same but doesn’t get the job done.

We’re masters of glamor and illusion, makeup and clothes, image and pretty words, constant mood-altering hypnotic music, potions and pills and essences and drugs going into orifices not particularly designed for intake. We work to exhaustion and self-injury in the name of maintaining the enormous and dangerous hallucination that is Western culture. We have separated time from the natural rhythms of sun and moon and season and it loses all meaning. A single misstep like going through a wrong door can take you to a place where you have no idea where you are — especially if that door is one on a train or a bus in this city. And there is no way a sane person would ever go to sleep unless it’s behind a locked and guarded door.

We’ve turned into the monsters our mothers warned us about, and we did it so slowly that we still tell the stories that would warn our children, but we snicker up our sleeves at the stories and the make-believe dangers we’re soaking in. We neglect to mention to them that they already live in the fairy lands, where the signposts are the Starbuck’s Siren and the Golden Arches.

If we were to bring some Dark Ages children from Ireland forward in time and drop them right in the heart of any big modern American city today, they would know exactly where they were. And probably what they needed to do to stay safe. It makes me wonder whether old Irish grandmothers knew more about human nature than they ever let on — or whether the stories they told made us so dream of fairies that we eventually became them.

It doesn’t take much of a cynic to think that stories of the fair folk originated as tales told by darker-skinned people to their children to warn them against getting involved with the decadent and wealthy wastrels that were probably the local lords. And that tales of the smaller, motivationally confused, hard-working brownies originated as tales the lighter-skinned folk told their children about the darker people that shared their islands. Tales of dwarfs and giants make much more sense if you imagine them as originating from two different races, each describing the other in terms of the height of a man, where a man was typically maybe fifty-five inches tall in one case and maybe more than seventy inches in the other. As the peoples interbreed and diets merge and heights average out, the stories stay the same. “Head and shoulders taller than the tallest man you’ve ever seen.” “The tallest of them would barely come up higher than your waist.” You get the idea.

But the fairies? That’s us. That’s so us. Because of where we stand, we would think that their magic would have to be more magical. Like giants would have to be taller, and dwarfs shorter. But they’re us. And I know that.

So why I was so confused when one day, around sunset, I drove around the block with the cathedral on it three times counterclockwise and ended up in the middle of an unfamiliar countryside, the surrounding hills populated with nothing but ruins of old stone buildings? Or when I woke up in my own bed a week later, fifteen pounds thinner, with no knowledge of the time that had passed? Or when the pregnancy test came out positive?


March 2, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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