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June 24, 2009

Wish you were here

I chose the title “Wish You Were Here” for this column because that is a phrase one might find written on the back of a picture postcard mailed from some exotic location by a loved one who is traveling, and, as far as anyone knows, I have been on vacation. I am back now, sitting at my desk, tirelessly tap-tap-tapping these little buttons on my keyboard (and, yet, as you read this, I might be somewhere else!), but there for a while I was … missing. Where did I go? I don’t know.

The last thing I remember was seeing fireworks, but then, possibly under the influence of the recent hit movie, “The Hangover,” my mind has gone blank. Or else I am embracing an obtuse conceit for some reason that may or may not become apparent as time goes by.

When I came to my senses, it was like I’d received an electric shock. My first breath felt like liquid fire exploding in my chest. There was someone banging on the door. My body was stiff and achy. When I went to stand, I stumbled. I fell down the stairs. A deliveryman gave me a large manila envelope, made me sign for it and left before I could adjust my eyes. The sun was so bright! Was I blind?

Judging from the photographic evidence, I had been out of town. Damn, I’d been to the moon! I had gone to a fantasy world beyond my wildest imagination! Was this Disneyland? In one of the pictures, I was riding a dinosaur! In another, I was in the captain’s chair on the U.S.S. Enterprise. In another, my son was towering over the Washington Monument, touching the peak with his index finger! There were other pictures of me with a woman I didn’t recognize. What fairy-tale kingdom was this?

I looked at the envelope. “Tao Te Ching Travel Agency.” An old joke, you know, from Chapter 47: “Without going out the door, know the world. Without peering out the window, see the way of Heaven. The further one goes, the less one knows.”

I went through the pictures again. Wow! It looks like I had a great time! What an adventure! How long was I out? And who is this woman? I have never seen such a smile! I wish I knew who these people were! I would like to know what it feels like to be as happy as these people look.

And then I saw the invoice. “Photoshop Package. Paid in full.” What did it mean? Was this some kind of elaborate joke? A travel agency that sells falsified photographic evidence of fantasy vacations in lieu of actual travel? That’s brilliant! Forget “The Hangover.” I was falling into “Total Recall.” But how had this happened? Did I do this to myself?

How could I have been so deceived? There is no way that I could have had these experiences! They were too fantastic! I would have remembered, certainly. But, no, they were just digital manipulations. Like my salty fingers moving your tongue around in your mouth.

There is one school of thought that would have us believe that words, themselves, are lies, that any effort to represent a thought or event by way of language is rendered hopeless by the various ulterior motives of the speaker and listener. Thus, the truth can only be known in the moment, right now; the past is past, unknown, forgotten, non-existent.

As a believer in the ever-so-slight possibility of perfect message, that combination of honest effort and pure receptivity, I know that it is communication that makes the divine possible, that there is at least a remote chance that any two souls can recognize common ground and build upon it in an effort to create that divine third being.

Yes, I wish you were here. I wish that you and I were together in all of the ways that people can be together. In peace. In passion. In joy. In anger and sorrow. I wish that we were able to look into each other’s faces and see the children that we have been.

But humans aren’t really designed for that level of connection. How can we hope to find truth in one another when we are so brilliantly capable of self-deception? When the truth can only be found hidden in a lie?

For further study: Neal Gabler’s “Life: The Movie.” Douglas Hofstadtler’s “I Am A Strange Loop.” Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.” In that order?

*This story is part of LEO's Fake Issue.