Monday, April 23, 2012

Zeno's Paradox and Mission Impossible

The homeless are in a hurry with nowhere to go.  Titanically impatient, enraged by delays, they can seem like thwarted Olympian Gods preparing to thunder when denied a good spot in chow line or informed that Disciple Reynaldo--notorious for his sonorous, endless mealtime graces--will be down momentarily to call for "hats off" and "reverence." (Compare stately Reynaldo to Disciple Charlie: "Tanks Jesus Bless Food Safe No Enemies Amen!  OOH RAH!  SEMPER FI!  CHOW DOWN, HOGS!")  Chugging into the cafeteria five at a time (Reynaldo records each guest entry with infuriating  elegance, ticking precise groupings of tally marks onto his clipboard) the men behave like runaway freight cars or elephants in musth after seizing their trays--crashing into the yogurt and fruit bins, careening off the monster milk thermoses, scattering cups and wet paper towels, bellowing and sending up splashes of oatmeal.  

Then comes the tension before "seconds."  If you try to line up for extra chow before the announcement comes, you might get shouted down, shamed into leaving even.  On the other hand, if you wait too long you might find yourself at the end of the line as it whip-snaps instantly into existence. God only knows if there will be an extra boiled egg or scouring pad-like synthetic chicken patty waiting.  Entry into the seconds line requires exquisite timing, balletic grace, animal cunning:  head down, you pretend you're headed for the garbage bins to bang the sticky peaches off your tray, then twirl, sidestep, and hop neatly into the emergent line, hoping no one challenges you.

Cursing, straining to see ahead, forever pegging spots in the next line, locked in a cycle of endless demands to know when "now" will happen, the homeless embody Zeno's most famous paradox: each time you move halfway toward a goal or destination, you still have halfway to go, then half again . . . chopping halves into smaller halves only and forever gets you halfway there and so you can never, ever arrive.   The paradox can be refuted by mathematicians (not by me), but  this was one of those conundrums that could seem vividly real as you pondered it awake in bed as a kid.  It's emotionally real when you're bombarded by the splitting particles of desperation given off by the homeless--finish line missing, goalposts moved again, game never over, can't be won.

Except maybe by a recent guest, a jolly florid fatty named Paul, a self-trumpeted bipolar/paranoid schizophrenic dosed on Seroquel and Abilify "with 100 milligrams of Wellbutrin to keep my sex-drive up to speed!"  Paul arrived without a backpack or any possessions aside from his blooming scarlet appearance, puffy alcoholic face, scruffy red beard, crimson football shirt and silky athletic shorts.  Striding about the sidewalk before evening chow, he introduced himself to everyone, attempting to shake hands, rarely succeeding, repeating in his reedy voice, "Sure am glad to meet everyone here at my new home, the Fresno Rescue Mission!  Hey there, buddy!"  Whenever he actually succeeded in shaking a hand or prying a name out of a sullen guest, Paul chirped, "Mission Accomplished!"

"Mission Accomplished!"  Line entered.  Line moving.  Entry reached.  Disciple greeted.  Plastic spoon and fork obtained.  Gristly meat masticated . . . "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"  By this simple expedient, Paul achieved a cosmic inversion of the homeless paradigm, creating a universe of finely grained, shimmering, moment by moment triumphs.   Zeno refuted, destination always in sight, always satisfied with results.  Settling his flab into his upper bunk, causing the cork board to slap and crack against the metal support slats, he'd sigh, drum his full belly with grubby fingers and murmur the the talismanic phrase, sometime altering it to a quiet, "M.A. . . Fucking A-1, M.A,  Good Buddy!"  

This is not to say I found Paul pleasing.   Aside from his masterstroke decap of one gloomy homeless hydra head, he was a personal rebuke to me and my failures. [I'm still trying to save enough money to get the hell out of this place, rebuild my wrecked credit, perhaps someday get back into college teaching, revisit the world of academic writing and screenwriting, with which I'm tentatively acquainted]   He was also irritating as fuck in other ways.  He stunk to high heaven, snored like a hell-boar,  tried to shake hands and introduce himself to you no matter how many times he'd done it, and he never stopped boasting about what he was going to do for all his "best est new buddies at the Mission once my lottery [or investment, or settlement, or inheritance--it kept changing] money comes in:  Buy 100 large pizzas for us all and a 100 inch Big Screen Flat Panel Plasma High Def Surround Sound Entertainment Center TV with all the BELLS AND WHISTLES! so we can all watch sports and do some Non-Threatening NO FUNNY BUSINESS Male Bonding!!!" 

No one ends up on heavy psych meds or in a homeless shelter without some serious mental and emotional scrap metal to haul around, but Paul never descended from his stratospheric cheeriness and satisfaction.  "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"

It ended violently--as things so often do at the Mission.  Dae'shon, a seething, furious, ultra-dark do-ragged homey simply had it one evening soon after lights-out.   The dialog writes itself: 

Paul [in bunk, accomplishing something] Mission Accomplished!
Dae'shon: "Goddamn mother fucker!  I told you to negate that shit!
Paul: A big screen TV!  Large pizzas for all my buddies!
Dae'shon: I get all the motherfucking pizza I want!  Other night I had two bitches bring me two boxes of fucking pizza with four different types of types of topping.  Two bitches, two boxes, twenty-four pieces, toppings all over the fucking place.   The whole thing was astronomical, gastronomical combination shit.   And we had a bunch of white girl movies!   Don't need no fucking sports!
Paul:  I will accomplish the mission.
Dae'shon:  I'll accomplish the motherfucking mission right now!

The imagery, too, is unavoidable:  Grappling in the half-light streaming from the restrooms and the red glow of the exit sign, Dae'shon's do rag flapping out like a dark hero cape, his compact muscles springing and fists flying, Paul's spongy bulk absorbing blows like Golem-stuff as he roars, the two seem for a moment archetypal Elder Gods who've torn through the dimensional fabric to flash up the sky over our sorry, sewer-stinking dormitory.  

After the disciples break it up, large droplets and spatters of blood are everywhere.   Paul and Dae'shon both get 30 days suspension.   Nobody's won.  Everybody's laughing, snorting, chattering, nobody sleeps for hours, everbody repeats Dae'shon's dialog and Paul's catch phrases until it all loses meaning and goes absolutely nowhere. 

No comments:

Post a Comment