2 January 2003
It starts here.
My field of vision is full of white, like:
* a blank sheet a paper
* the Antarctic
* the other side of a black hole
and it's oh-so-very slightly translucent, so I can't tell whether the shadows in what I see are real, or figments of my imagination, or ghosts.
Wait. Wait. The white is almost electric, piercing. I'm getting snow blindness. Wait! I'm seeing the very moment of creation. Wait! Black and yellow spots start dancing at the edge of my vision, and it's then that I have to escape --
Colours. Noise. People. Borders.
I'm in Borders on Charing Cross Road in the Literature section with a plastic bag clutched in my hand, I'm sweating, my skin feels like it's burning but not as much as my lungs and I'm gulping deep cool breaths.
Mother always said not to put bags on my head. Even though it was never really something that crossed my mind, it was one of the first growing-up safety tips I ever had. And I think everyone has it, along with Don't Drink Bleach and Don't Go Near Strange Dogs.
Both of which are fair enough actually. Both bleach and strange dogs can do you a lot of harm, as well as getting in cars with strangers, running across the road to fetch a stray football without looking, letting old men touch your Thing, and poking paperclips into plugsockets.
All good advice.
But, really, bags?
Your traditional plastic bag is fairly flimsy. In the event of any form of panic, it's not the most arduous thing to remove from your face. And it's a carrier bag, which means it carries things -- including both your head and, yes, a small air supply. Not to mention the happy accident of evolution of that peculiar and bizarre ability to hold your breath.
We've got lungs, people! It means we don't have to have air the whole time!
Frankly, I fail to see what's so dangerous about a paper bag over my head anyway.
The sudden sensory deprivation is not going to render a grown man or even small child insensible and throw them into fits of panic. A bag covering the face is not going to cause you to forget how to take it off, and certainly not for a whole minute or however long it would take for you to fall unconscious, and that only if the neck of the bag has somehow, maliciously tightened itself around your throat.
Plastic bags don't kill people. Guns kill people.
No, what it's all about is programming. It's a way of training, of indoctrinating children into society.
Think about it this way: I, in my parent hat, tell you, in your infant hat, that You Musn't Eat That Chocolate. If you eat it and I see you then you're going to get bawled at, and maybe in certain unenlightened parts of the world spanked, thrown down the stairs, molested, cattleprodded or otherwise punished. But if I (still wearing my parent hat) don't see you then you won't get punished, and the lessons you actually learn are:
* I can do whatever I want so long as I don't get caught; and
* Even though my parent says I can't do something, I can; and
* Mmmmm. Chocolate.
The ultimate problem here is that you like eating chocolate. You're being given an instruction which is plainly impossible and end up losing your faith in parents, society and the universe in general.
However! If your introduction to the world of taking instructions had been about something you had no inclination whatsoever to do, you'd simply never realise that you could break the rules. You'd just never be in a situation where you'd find that breaking a rule had no consequence.
Because who, really, would put plastic bag on their head, without prompting?
(Apart from tramps and hippies, which completely proves my point about realising the rules can be broken as social exclusion.)
And everything else is based on this. You believe that instructions actually mean something. Once the child is used to obeying one rule, another rule isn't so bad, and another, and another, until finally it's:
* Don't kill people
* Don't let old men touch your Thing, even for money
* Pay your taxes
* Say your prayers
* Get your hair cut
and you obey all of them.
All resting on this basic assumption, this unquestioned rule, that given a plastic bag, you mustn't put it on your head.
Yes, and that's why I'm here, in Borders, next to the Joseph Heller novels, catching my breath: I'm breaking my programming. I'm subverting the system. I'm taking the power back. In public!
It didn't kill me. I didn't inhale weird toxic plastic bag fumes. I didn't suffocate. I didn't go mad from sense deprivation, I didn't go blind, it didn't cling and wrap tightly and crawl down my gullet. I'm panting and I'm a little sweaty, but that's the worst of it.
So here! Have my trousers! No, keep my wallet. If I'm not paying taxes, I'm certainly not paying for books, and I'll never need to pay for another haircut.
Prayers, what are they? Laws?, you have no power over me.
Give me five bucks, you can touch my cock!
Now, where are the scissors? I want to go running.