There Are No Natives

I am on top of the Empire State Building leaning on the railing which I have carefully examined to see if it’s strongly made. The sound of it comes all that way, up, to me. A hum. Thousands of ventilators far away. Now and then I hear an improbable clank. The air, even up here, is warmed by it.

To the north a large green rectangle, Central Park, lies flat, realclean-edged, indented. A skin has been pulled off, a bandage removed, and a small section of the Planet has been allowed to grow.

I think, “They have chosen to do this in order to save their lives.” And then I think, “It is not really a section of the Planet, it is a perfect imitation of a section of the Planet (remembering the zoo). It is how they think it might look.” I am struck by their wisdom. Moved.

The elevator is not too crowded. We are all silent and perfectly behaved, except a little girl who is whispering something to her mother. Her mother holds her hand and bends down to listen. The little girl giggles. Hunching her shoulders and screwing up her face. She has told her mother something outrageous.

In the lobby are people who are really doing it, not like us, just looking around. They wear the current costume and read the office directories beside the banks of elevators. I realize there are offices in the Empire State Building! It is not just a tower to look from!

It all starts coming in, on the street. Each one is going somewhere, thinking. Many are moving their lips, talking to themselves. In 2 blocks I am walking as fast as they are. We all agree to wait when the light turns red.

In the subway it is more intense. Something about being under the ground? It is horrifying to let it all come in, in the subway.

A gust of dirty air hits me as I rise out of it at the 7th Ave. subway exit. I am relieved, perhaps because the buildings are lower, the street wider, the intersection a jumble of crazy angles?

                                                                     •

Years ago, somewhere inconceivably else, I could have been given a strange assignment.

He was a short man, gray haired but mostly bald. He explained the thing to me in a homey kind of office.

“I can fix you up to be, actually be, a Native of a World,” he said. “You won’t be like them, you will be one of them. Think the way they do, see as they see etc with exactly their physical and mental equipment. You can see, of course, what this means! It means your yesdata, for the first time, will be absolutely accurate. You will, in every sense, know what it is to be one.”

I have forgotten all he said about the reports I’d have to make on my return, but I can almost remember the taste of the potion I got. Brassy, but not too bad.

And what is happening during moments like that on the Empire State building is simply that the potion’s effect is flickering out. There are moments of wakefulness, and it all starts coming in.

You see it on the faces of the others. They are all more or less drugged. Many are as straight or straighter than you are, but are pretending not to be. As you are pretending not to be.

It is then, while watching the ones who are actually doing it (not like us, just looking around), that you realize there are only people more or less drugged into this vast, insane, assignment.

There are no natives!

—Lew Welch

 

 

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