Chaos had always dreamed of being fearless. In common with the rest of the human race, he nurtured a private shame on the subject of his coward heart. Not strong he was also not, in comparison with the disabled, truly weak. Towards all physical activity he had always had the impression of being an actor in some amateur theater production.
Paranoia instills a colossal sense of invulnerability. One imagines oneself the vessel of superpowers denied the common run of humanity. It is quite understandable that one will interpret all offers of help as transparent schemes to steal one's prowess.
When King Lear's daughters lock him out of the fortress into the on-coming storm, it is we, the spectators to the play, who feel distress from the cruelty of their conduct and the helplessness of the victim. Lear himself is certain that he is invulnerable to any mere thunderstorm. Rather than mind over matter, one is speaking of a mind thoroughly deluded with respect to its relationship to matter. Such delusions may carry rhetorical power: a sincerely maintained conviction of invulnerability can go a long way towards convincing others of its validity. It is the means by which the fantasies of crazy dictators achieve a spell-binding power over the mass mind.
As with many of the helpful individuals Chaos had encountered on his journey, his host had made token efforts to convert him to the doctrines of Oral Roberts. In retrospect it appears that most of the population of southwestern Pennsylvania is fundamentalist Christians. For the most part, the intentions of these citizen-missionaries weren't malign: they'd understood, with considerably more insight than his co-workers, family or psychiatrists, that Chaos was deeply troubled. It was natural for them to suggest that palliatives from the New Testament could benefit his soul.
The following morning Chaos was dropped off at a street corner in the downtown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a town just to the north of Pittsburgh at the conjunction of the Beaver and Ohio rivers. Soon afterwards he entered a diner at the far end of town, near the bridge over the Beaver River that connects Beaver Falls with the neighboring town of New Brighton. He sat down at the counter, alone , hunched over and silent. He had the impression that his entrance had generated some commotion in the group of truck drivers seated in a booth against the side wall. In fact a collection was being made. One of them stepped up to Chaos and, apology in his voice, passed him $3 for breakfast. It had been like this all through this journey. Chaos rarely had to beg. He just happened to look the way he did.
In his state of confusion, it took him over an hour to finish breakfast. Then he left the diner and diverted himself with a stroll along the main thoroughfare. People that he'd never met before greeted him, saying hello and waving to him. This came as something of a surprise: alienated as he was from himself, he'd taken it for granted that he would be just as alien to anyone else. Many years later, he more or less figured out that, Beaver Falls being a college town, he'd been taken for a college professor. ( Note: This judgement with respect to him is always fundamentally sound, though always literally incorrect. The identification of the life of the mind with the Academy is one of the prevailing evils of the American imagination)
Despite this, there was no doubt in his mind that the forces of evil remained omnipresent. It was a kind of systemic malevolence, its latitudes metaphorical and its longitudes off somewhere in the future. Therefore he could continue to greet the surrounding world with the na¥ve candor of a child.
As it had been all through this trip. street signs, written materials in shop windows, and road indicators were interpreted as messages from higher agencies, telling him what he had to do next, and where he had to go. He'd altered his route any number of times on the basis of a few words perceived in the advertizing of a restaurant window. A few days later he came across a sign on a building in Beaver Falls that brought him to a complete stop, It caused him to avoid that part of town for awhile, though eventually he did find some way of walking past it. The sign stretched the full length of the side wall and in large letters stated, simply:
Such a message is frightening enough to normal people. To Chaos it was petrifying. The words all by themselves were bad enough, but it was the cross-referencing of associations they'd eveoked which had made it impossible for him to proceed further:
Word games are the traditional recreation of poets and psychotics.They have been known to substitute for normal thinking. That, too, is not always a bad thing.
By late afternoon Chaos was becoming acutely aware of the freezing weather and a gnawing hunger. Without hestitation he walked onto the nearest porch and knocked at the door.
A woman lifted the shade of a low window before coming to the front door and opening it a crack, her body wedged in the doorway. To Chaos the interior, filled with shadows and suggestions of dense accumulations of cobwebs, did not look inviting, .
"My husband will be back later.", she said, as if that put an end to the matter. As Chaos remained on the porch, lost in his clanking reveries, she called the police.
A squad car driven by an elderly policeman drove him down to the station. The walls of the holding tank into which Chaos was introduced were covered with grafitti: lots of food for interpretive gymnastics. In his state of mind Chaos could have figured out from them the history of the world for another century: it is my recollection that this is more or less what he did. Upon his request, a cup of coffee was given to him with rather bad grace. The room service in this hotel was definitely not up to standard.
The cops ran a computer scan on him. The extra-galactic supervisors in Washington informed the clone-cops of Beaver Falls it was not yet the time for Chaos to be destroyed.
The aged cop, not an unkindly man, drove Chaos back to the downtown and left him off on a street corner. Before releasing him the cop delivered a standard lecture, the gist of which was that the old days of tramps and hobos were long past.It was time for him to start thinking of settling down. Then he told him to get out of town within 24 hours.
( This warning appeared to have been pro forma. A few days later Chaos was adopted by an evangelical shelter called 'Fishers For Boys' in New Brighton. As long as he was staying there the cops didn't bother him. In any case, as the warning didn't make any sense to him, it was ignored.)
Chaos returned to the diner after dark. He had not been sitting in a booth for more than ten minutes when a middle-aged waitress came over and asked if she could pay for his dinner. Accepting the offer, Chaos sat alone with his meal for the next hour, smoking one cigarette after another.
(Without minimizing the harm done by nicotine and tobacco, one must not ignore their restorative powers for certain classes of people: psychotics, prisoners, the institutionalized, runaways and others in desperate situations.For them, though religion, psychiatry, medicine, education and the law may fail: tobacco never faileth.)
Around 8 PM, Chaos drifted into a conversation with some teenagers gathered around the pinball machines. They thought him a likeable fellow. He told them that he was in town looking for a job. They believed him, because he believed it himself. A pretty girl had information that the local hospital was looking for orderlies.They wished him good luck.Before returning to the cold night, convinced he had at re-entered the economic mainstream, he left a large tip for the waitress.
It is around 9 PM. Chaos is waltzing back into the ice-bound downtown area of Beaver Falls. He's thoroughly disoriented. He well deserves his name of Chaos. Among other strange notions, he believes that the phenomenal world is a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of interpenetrating schemes of symbolic manipulation, all of them rooted in his personal uniqueness.
There is hardly a soul on the streets. Dim lighting signals the presence of bars and nightclubs. He doesn't know a single name of any inhabitant of Beaver Falls. Until that morning he didn't even know there was a place named Beaver Falls.
He really ought to come in from the cold.
What does he do?
This visionary, buoyed up on inspiration alone, walked down a residential street, . Proceeding systematically from house to house, he knocked on doors. It was his intention, in case someone answered, to ask if he could spend the night in their basement. The spell of incarceration in the local jail had taught him nothing.
But this time he was lucky. The first two attempts were greeted with silence. No-one came to the door. At the third house the door was opened by a college student. At the time Chaos didn't know that Beaver Falls is a college town: Geneva College is just up the hill. After a short conversation the student sized him up as a wandering destitute romantic poet, a charming, perfectly sane stranger who happened to have ended up in his town. He walked Chaos down to a hotel on Main Street, paid him into a room and invited him to a drink at the bar.
The hotel lobby in which the bar was located was barren and sleazy. Watching the TV in the corner sat a weather-worn, destitute alcoholic. Chaos realized of course that the TV program was sending this man messages from the Montreal-Washington axis, which were then re-transmitted to him through amplification by the century plant at the back of the lobby.
Chaos also understood what these messages were telling him: that the college student was the agent of the force fields governing the cosmos. It was these which had brought about his arrival at this very hotel on that very night. In a few hours he could expect to experience death preceded by prolonged and horrible tortures.
Chaos had believed this awaited him at every stopover, hotel, shelter, flophouse, soup kitchen or ride in his freakish flight from Philadelphia. The scenario had become so familiar that he'd found ways of playing around with it. That man sitting at the far end of the bar, he was obviously the executioner. There, hidden underneath the counter, were the instruments of torture.
Although it is impossible to do justice to Chaos' state of delusion, it does not take a psychiatrist to realize that alcohol was extremely bad for him. As he sipped his whiskey, his mind galloped off in a riot of confused associations. The young idealist who was his host made numerous vain attempts to plummet the depths of his wisdom, his insights into metaphysical realms, his spontaneous eloquent renditions of romantic poetry. Soon, however, Chaos excused himself and got up from the bar to go to the bathroom.
The pool room crackled with animation and light. What he saw so terrified him that he nearly ran out of the hotel. The creatures populating the room all looked like monsters: horns, tails, snouts, jowls, fangs. It was because of experiences like this that he had run away from Philadelphia. The theory of interpenetrating symbolic universes made everything plausible. Chaos never doubted its irrefutable logic.
He returned to the bar. Disappointed, confused, his benefactor had finally realized that Chaos, no doubt through haughty pride and artistic arrogance, was not going to dispense any of his wisdom on that particular night. He got up and left.
Soon afterwards, Chaos made his up the staircase to a dark landing and took possession of his room. He crawled under the covers of a huge creaking bed with broken springs. He did take off his shoes, However he did not remove any other item of clothing or loosen his belt. The light remained on throughout the night.
It can get rather boring waiting for inevitable tortures. Chaos closed his eyes and almost immediately fell asleep.