I WAS PARKED at an Olerex gas station with a new red jeep when a jolly woman showed up out of nowhere with lots of freckles and wavy hair. She then demonstrated to me how the back of the jeep could be converted into beds, and it wasn’t too long after that I found myself in her warm lush embrace with lips locked and souls blending into rainbow oblivion. That’s right, the good stuff, all in the back of a jeep at an Olerex in Tartu. That was at least satisfying to my soul. Then somehow I wound up on the bridge from Narva to Ivangorod with Raivo H., whereupon we encountered Noam Chomsky crossing the bridge. “Mr. Chomsky, Mr. Chomsky, I have read many of your books!” He was not impressed and rather a dick in person. He just wanted to go to some Russian bistro on the other side and load up on their greasy Slavic dishes. I eventually lost Raivo too, who felt too comfortable speaking Russian to the Russians, and decided I had had my fill of Russia and had to go back to Estonia. In Russia, it was night, and there was a lot of graffiti and garbage and sad-eyed people seated around cafes and restaurants drinking. In Estonia, it was daytime and painfully clean and painfully quiet. Even the Estonian Russians of Narva were silent as they went about gardening and cycling.
THIS YEAR I TOOK IT upon myself to vote in the American presidential election. It was time to end the charades, the silliness, the scandal. I was tired of rioting, death, and pornographic actress intrigues, and yearned for the hand of some sturdy, stodgy lifelong political player to right the ship of state. Take the wheel, Biden, take the wheel and steer us back into the calm seas of unfulfilled political promises and soaring rhetoric based on some vague nostalgia for the Civil Rights Movement.
For this has been the Democratic idea for what seems like my entire lifetime. They have been running on what has mostly been an empty tank, replaying the greatest hits of the Kennedys. Much is promised from year to year, but the best they can deliver seems to be peace and no civil war. Even in the now revered Obama age, the man himself appealed to America to reach for the stars, to achieve its own “Sputnik Moment.” Yet many Americans were not buying.
The inspiring rhetoric and compromised projects led mostly nowhere.
Instead, it seems the whole country is drowning in seas of heavily armed, mentally confused vigilantes. A pirate crew of them was arrested recently for planning to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan. White supremacy, a simmering underground fire in recent years, has burst into white flames across the landscape. Even people who are not Europeans are getting in on it. Social media is soaking in sick deluges and torrents of propaganda. Hatred — of someone and preferably someone else — is the modern American business and business as of late has been good.
This is why it makes sense to vote for a rather average older gentleman from the State of Delaware. Delaware, the miniscule Atlantic state, among the most boring places in America. For in the hellfire of 2020, the Democrats’ boring promises of peace and no civil war actually sound pretty good. We must choose a boring peace, and at least delay or calm the ongoing internal divisions and strife that explode on a daily basis. There is an immediacy to voting in this strange year, a newfound urgency to stopping a narcissistic kleptocrat out to enrich his relatives and turn America into some kind of Latin American family dictatorship while the country suffocates under a pandemic and crackpot apocalyptic militias. The Trumps are to America what the Somozas were once to Nicaragua, watching the streets burn from the comfort of gilded toilets.
So voting is the order of the day. Yet it was no easy task. First, I had to fill out a form online, print it out, sign it, date it, and mail it to my local board of elections in New York, where it apparently is still headed with an Estonian flag stamp affixed, one that I hope might arouse some wonder among the local officials. On top of that, I printed out my electronic ballot, marked the circles with a pen, and dispatched it. This process required me to resurrect some elementary school skills. The ballot was folded neatly inside a security envelope, which had to be signed and taped shut, which was then folded inside a mailing envelope, which also had to be sealed. Somehow Amazon had figured out how to confirm my order for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with a simple five-digit code, yet the local Board of Elections required me to undertake this curious, Japanese origami-like art project.
I was undeterred.
Sitting there in a bookstore café, surrounded by pensioners sipping coffee, I had the sense that I was crafting a paper airplane, one I would soon let fly across the room where it might strike an unsuspected café patron in the eye as he was perusing the diaries of Johannes Käbin or Nasta’s new hot astrology book. Yet even these dinosaurs of the Sputnik era could vote in Estonia with their identity cards and a click or two. All they had to do was log in with Mobiil-ID and cast their votes for their politicians of choice. Yes, I thought. Yes, I will vote for peace and no civil war this time. But there is so much more to accomplish once we achieve our long-awaited return to normalcy.
An Estonian version of this article appears in the 24 October edition of Postimees.
LOST ANOTHER FRIEND in recent weeks, not to death, but to marriage. When we are young and idealistic, we take on the costumes and pageantry of relationships without even knowing them, as if engaged in some profound dress-up party, but when you get older, when you observe the mind states of your friends as they evolve or rather transform during the course of their relationships, these occurrences leave room for worry. The woman outside the relationship is open, flowing, free, friendly, supportive, human. The man outside the relationship is bold, rough, adventurous, come-what-may, locked into achieving the whims of his own ego or life force. Yet put them together, and you get a sort of lethargic, post-coital slop bucket of guarded or changed personalities and shared dreams that are all too easily crushed or disjointed. Which is to say, congratulations on your great achievements, friends — and this happens with great frequency in life — but also, so sad to lose you. Up long lanes, they disappear, up long, guarded roads where men stand in trench coats with guns. The militarized estate of the relationship. It’s, as I said, a cosmic depression to watch, especially if your friend has undergone a thorough brainwashing in the wee hours and now can only revert to quoting his/her partner, “Ingrid thinks this,” or, well, “Thomas thinks that.” It’s like the shining of flashlights in bleak vacant windows of a once grand and busy hotel that has now been closed up for the winter season. Come back, friend, come back to me from the brink! One of these days the amnesia will wear off. One of these days you will shine free. One of these days the hotel will reopen.
FLYING ON A MATTRESS by raising and lowering one side in repetitive motion, like a giant wing, we arrived to nighttime twilight Tartu, where the city lights glowed in the distance like coal embers and the sky was gray with plumes of purple smoke. Autumn, cozy autumn, here at last. Cool and cold back alleys between the old buildings. Walking down the ways. There were parties letting out from everywhere, many people I knew behind the warm café window glass, the candles reflecting on mirrors and the sounds of violins and accordions. An old high school friend sat in the corner shooting himself up with syringes. “Diabetes,” he mumbled to me, as if there was nothing more to say. I looked up at the sky and saw the white moon, sun, and north star twirl around each other in some synchronized dance and then shoot off and away, leaving behind mist and tiled rooftops. And then one day, while walking on University Street, a pint-sized ferocious blonde woman with two gray, striking eyes, crossed my path and began to admonish me, but in a playful way, growling. “This couldn’t be her,” I remarked aloud to an unseen audience. “This cannot be the new love of my life.” She only smiled and growled. Ferocious wench. Yet it wasn’t her. There was a young pretty cook who was taken with me some days after that. A fine-looking girl, nothing extraordinary about her but her devotion. She kissed me kindly and told me that she loved me and I melted away into the honey rays of the morning northern sun. It took a while for me to believe that someone actually loved me, loved me just as I am. Or as I was. Or as I will be. Whenever this all took place. What a sensation though. As sweet as sweet potatoes. Unforgettable.
I’M NOT REALLY SURE how I did it, or if I did. Or if it is just another bout of self-delusion? However, the Healer says that our ego often disrupts our natural flow, so that the ego is a disagreeable friend of sorts, constantly bickering with our internal compass that always points the way, the wu wei, telling us ‘no’ while the wave waters flood ‘yes, yes.’ I had it crummy and bad for her for years, but it had to come to an end. Something had to be done to break the supernatural. In her mind’s eye, it was probably all behavior. Words. Käitumine, as they say. Things that had happened, or had been said. Physical realms of possibilities. But … but. But none of that really matters when the love wave crashes over you at 3:30 on a Wednesday morning! There’s a lot of chatter, analysis, but it’s all rather beside the point in the face of the great wave. It couldn’t go on though. It was too wretchedly painful. I had to appeal to the gods to intervene. This was, in all truth, a genuine appeal to the superhero forces of the universe. There was some heavy praying during some performance. In the end, I promised to give my heart to whomever I next saw, which seemed a ballsy move. This was just when the half-Aleut emerged after a brief rehearsal and was hot-struck. Her eyes were all filmy and foggy. It was a weird moment, among the weirder in my life. This is the silent crash of the great wave. The way it comes down, drawing you back into soupy oblivion. The momentary pinprick of celestial light from the cosmos. Later experiments and trial balloons have suggested that this was real and all happened. My ego suggests otherwise. He thinks I made up a new story to believe in. But if we are capable of such story craft, then how come we can’t control our own stories? No. There is some interplay, but the narrative is actually beyond us. We reach for it, we know it’s there, but we cannot push it one way or the other. I’m not afraid of it anymore though. That’s the difference. Once, while returning from a soiree in an English village, I was terror-stricken when I saw the swirling red mist above an Anglican cemetery. Tombstones, ghosts, and crosses. Back then, I turned and ran. I made great haste. When faced with the same spectral light today, I would stay and watch. I no longer fear the phantasmal unknown. I am of it.
I WANT TO TELL YOU about the haunted room. It was in the back of the house. Not a dismal place, actually, but cheerless, blank. White furniture, a kitchenette. It was here though, at odd times in the day, when objects would come to life. The belt, carelessly strewn on the floor, would writhe and rise up, its silver buckle turned to a hissing head. Jewelry boxes hopped happily forward, as if grazing rabbits. They meant no harm. No one believed the room was haunted, but I knew. That’s why I was so terrified to go in there. What was most frightening about the little place was not the animate objects, but the sense of dread that lurked within. There was a green couch in the corner and sometimes I would lie there and try to make sense of things. I would lie there and think of the swimming pool in Philadelphia, the sound of the wind at the glass. How had all these things happened since? Things seemed so honest and good in the swimming pool. There was love in there. And now this? This all had to be a bad dream then. Hissing serpent belts and rabbit boxes? Locked up inside a room of dread. On occasion if I lied still enough, the ghost of the little white owl woman would come and lie beside me and I would feel a fleeting comfort and peace. My soul would at last steam up from me and I would sleep wonderfully and be happy the fantasy even existed. This represented the very pinnacle of my living experience. The drooling comfort before the big sleep. The idyll of white owl woman in a Reykjavik swimming pool. It was all just a blanket, a cover. The belt slept in the corner, coiled. The boxes observed from beneath the table, nibbling. This room was haunted, sure, but there had to be a way to exorcise its demons. Someday, somehow.