Those of you old enough to remember the 80s know that it was the decade in which everyone suddenly realized they were bisexual. In the 90s, we diagnosed ourselves as bipolar and prescribed ourselves cocaine. Then in the 2000s, we all suffered the mass hysteria of introspection and had an orgy of reality.
At first I loved it. I thought my life was so interesting and so was everyone else’s. Then I had a reality hangover. I got so tired of all the TV shows, the intricacies of self-medicating, talk therapy, memoirs, emo, and... frankly... the human race. Aren’t you tired of it too? I was completely fascinated by mankind for so long, but now I’m overinundated with the minutiae of what it means to be oneself. Without that question, what is left? I’ll tell you: the nonself. That’s why I’m still interested in obsessives, long after my patience with the rest of the spectrum of mental disorders has run out. I find it delightfully refreshing that the object of obsessives’ most profound interest is, unlike almost everyone else crazy or sane, something other than themselves.
Wolfgang Carver studies sociology and religion through what’s happening in the sky, and Gordon Massman works on creating a seven-by-four-foot utopia, a welcoming nest for elusive sleep. Neither of these gentlemen, please note, dwells on his feelings. They are almost entirely focused on the atmosphere.
THE PERFECT WEATHER: WOLFGANG CARVER
My 15-year-old son, Wolfgang, has had a tempestuous relationship with climate conditions since before he could even speak. He is endlessly fascinated by the weather, and not knowing what is happening with it for even half an hour is torment to him. When he was one year old I’d have to carry him around town every day to check all the satellite dishes. His first words were about clouds, wind, and mud, and most of his words ever since have been centered on those same topics. His artwork, from childhood finger paintings to current oils on canvas and sculptures, heavily features erupting volcanoes, obliterating snow, and hail. Even his religious beliefs—which no one in his family or among his friends share—begin and end with the natural disasters of the apocalypse and the balminess of heaven.
Lisa Carver: How many times a day do your sister and I ask you to stop talking about the weather?
Wolfgang Carver: I would say about ten. It’s less since I got my 24-hour weather radio, because I can have it anywhere I want and I don’t have to turn on the TV every hour and wait for the weather.
What does the weather radio talk about?
How it’s supposed to be that day or the next few days, or barometric pressure, or wind chill in the Dover area, Maine, Boston, and Mount Washington. Plus they give warnings, like if there’s flooding, go to high places. “Turn around, don’t drown.” Or if there’s lightning, don’t touch metal.
How do they make the forecast?
Satellites in space and satellite dishes on earth receiving signals.
You have two CDs that you listen to over and over when you’re not listening to your weather radio. What are they?
Al Gore and a storm CD—thunder and rain, that’s all.
What does Al Gore talk about?
The world ending. And how we’re infecting the environment. And a hole in the atmosphere we made with pollution that the sun gets through. And the greenhouse effect—lots and lots of heat getting trapped, changing the weather.
What does weather mean to you?
It always makes me feel safe because... if I don’t listen to it, how will I know what’s going to happen?
What’s the forecast for the next few days?
Sunny today, around 20 degrees, but wind chill zero or below zero. Storm coming in Saturday, coming from out West. Three to six inches of snow Saturday night and Sunday.
How would you describe our family vacation to Florida?
It was between 70 and 80 degrees. There was a storm. Gusts of wind picked up sand and got it in my eyes. Hurricane Ida was in Texas and then Jacksonville and turning down and swirling in the Gulf coming around the tip of Florida to us where we were in Miami.
What would stop you—rain, sleet, hail, or snow?
I think hail. Sometimes it’s four inches across and I could get knocked out.
What’s your favorite weather?
How did you feel when those bullies snatched your umbrella and stomped on it?
I felt like I was cold and wet. It was raining off and on all day. This was around 2:30 PM, walking home. It was around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But I was walking through the forest, in the shade, so it was probably more like 64 or 63.
What are you most afraid of?
The apocalypse, because it’s about people dying, and I don’t want to die yet. No one really knows how the earth will end, but my theory is earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, tornadoes, thunder, and lightning all around the world.
Tell me more about the apocalypse.
If people are worshipping the devil in the form of witchcraft and bad movies, then God would burn the earth when he comes here. But we would be safe in the gates of the Holy City. The weather is sunny there. And warm, but we wouldn’t feel it the way we do now because we wouldn’t be in the form our bodies are in now—no sickness and broken bones. We’d be flying through the warmth more than walking. We would still have our heart and soul, which would feel love and happiness but doesn’t touch things the same way, doesn’t feel hurt. Everyone would be vegetarians, so animals would be free. We’d have a new earth, all pure and sweet, and it would be only spring and summer. No air pollution.
What was that DVD you picked out in Walmart yesterday?
It was about natural disasters: earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, and floods. But I ended up not buying it because I got scared.
But you didn’t want any other DVD, even though I said you could have any DVD at all. It’s funny that what you’re most attracted to in the world is also what most terrifies you. Some people are like that about love. It’s very powerful.
I’m attracted to knowing what’s going to happen. I feel safe then.
Are you interested in dating ever?
I don’t know yet. I think I’ll just wait, because I don’t want to end up like you.
[laughs] End up like me how?
Oh my God. OK, I’ll take that hit. I won’t edit that out. Do you have any obsessions other than the weather?
Time. [gets up and leaves the room]
Did you just go check the microwave to make sure it was on the time rather than how many seconds left to cook?
We have ten other clocks in the house. Why do you always have to have the microwave tell time, too?
I don’t know. So I won’t be late? [laughs]
THE PERFECT SLEEP: GORDON MASSMAN
There’s this magnificent, filthy, disturbing poet named Gordon Massman. I—like everyone—hate poets. In fact, I hate pretty much everything, so it is no easy thing to please me poetically, or at all. I sent him a fan letter and asked him about his obsession with achieving the perfect sleeping conditions: sheets tucked in just right so that they will never snap out from under the blanket and wake him if he moves, body lotioned so there is no chance of an itch in the night to wake him, bowels emptied even if he bleeds from straining so that the need to defecate will never nudge him out of a finally achieved sound sleep, and so on. He worked so hard on perfecting his little cocoon of a sleeping environment. He pretty much worked on it all night every night for ten years until he went so crazy with sleep deprivation that he ended up in an insane asylum. Twice. And got divorced. Thrice.
Well, obviously there’s a lot of sorrow behind this story, but since I don’t feel the need inside me for anything to be any certain way at all, I don’t relate to the pain and fear that must be associated with compulsion. I can’t imagine what it feels like. So all I’m left with is what it looks like. And, as do heroin addicts in the movies with their works and slang and reedy desperation, Gordon’s insomnia looks voluptuous, interesting, and sexy.
He sent me a letter about his life and it was so overwhelming that I wrote back asking him if we could break it down to just one night, minute by minute. He didn’t respond for a long time. Then he wrote that, besides being busy revising his newest book of poems, just talking about these obsessions was reactivating them (he’s semi-cured these days), so he had to bow out of the project, but I was free to create out of his phrases one night in his life, and here it is. When the sun goes down, this is what went down (I imagine) chez Gordon Massmann:
10 PM: Rip down whatever I can: chicken leg, pork chop, cheese, bread, to aid with...
10:20 PM: Force myself to defecate, straining so hard I bleed.
10:30 PM: Set thermostat exactly right, check door locks, toilet seats down, drawers closed, things on tables secure so as not to tumble and thud me awake. Go check if car doors are locked.
10:40 PM: Make sure dog water bowl brimful. Psychically perceive dog’s bladder is full, go walk him again so he won’t disturb asking to be walked.
11 PM: Face shaved, teeth flossed—nothing must be caught in between (better floss again), check faucets, drawer handles all down and flat against drawer, lotion slathered on body to prevent itching, bottom sheet tightly tucked around mattress corners, foot powder caked on toes, blanket covering feet, remember shoes in closet cannot be overturned and instead must all be soles to floor—go check. Lamp turned off and on and off and on and off and on and off.
11:30 PM: Orgasm relaxes. Must have one.
11:40 PM: Finally, must urinate immediately before falling asleep, which means that if I haven’t fallen asleep within five minutes in bed I have to drag myself to the bathroom to urinate the few pathetic drops I’ve accumulated. However, I cannot allow myself to sleep until certain numbers shine on the digital clock in a certain order. Tricky to coordinate.
11:55 PM: Remember furnace will boom when switching on. Go downstairs and fix it.
12:05 AM: Check door locks, toilet seats down, drawers closed, things on tables secure so as not to tumble and thud me awake. Go check if car doors are locked.
12:20 AM: Urinate a few drops. Floss. Check faucets, drawer handles all down and flat against drawer, shoes in closet all sole-down, bottom sheet tightly tucked around mattress corners, blanket covering feet. Lamp turned off and on and off and on and off and on and off. Watch digital clock flick the wrong numbers. Go urinate. Repeat.
1:35 AM: Check dog bowl. Walk dog. Check car locks.
2 AM: Check thermostat, door locks, toilet seats, things on tables, lotion situation, foot-powder levels, soundness of blankets and sheets. Lamp turned off and on and off and on and off and on and off. Urinate a few drops. Check clocks. Repeat.
3:05 AM: Check locks, sheets, seats, things. Floss, slather, powder, pee. Lamp turned off and on and off and on and off and on and off. Check clock. Orgasm relaxes. Check cock.
4:05 AM: Walk dog, check car locks, check door locks, check sheets, urinate, light off on off on off on off. Check clock. Remember furnace booms.
4:30 AM: Drag mattress into concrete basement to sleep there—darker and less traffic noise.
5 AM: Orgasm relaxes. Must have one.