It’s somewhat understandable, the need for humans to explain all the complexities of modern life; all the social conundrums that beg for intricate, sensitive solutions; every bounce of the ball that shoves it farther afield; to vividly, passionately explain them as the doing of some evil force.
Doing so allows us mortals some semblance of control over life’s scariest aspects. It’s much easier to intellectually confront Darth Vader than the ghastly ghost face of chaos. The dark lord at least agrees that we’re important enough to destroy. Chaos, on the other hand, has no plan and no priorities, could in fact care less whether we as a species, as a planet, live or die.
Indifference is truly frightening for us humans. Humility hurts.
Therefore, all of it — from autism to erectile dysfunction, potholes to powder-keg plate tectonics — must be someone’s fault. The common thread conspiracy theory holds that at root, a shadowy figure or several such tie-bearing individuals of the genus Biggus Wiggus, makes things happen for a reason.
These despots shape crises, mold epic mishaps, to realize the long-sought totalitarian agenda to rule the world from the comfort of their private jets, or from their Spartan headquarters aboard heated leather seats in their expensive German sedans.
They are the conspirators, and we — everything we are and everything we own — are the spoils.
It’s become almost ubiquitous, the collecting of calamity mixed with half-truth and paranoia. Enter a incidental conversation in the buffet line, or at your great uncle’s funeral, and you’ll turn up a self-styled world view where the boogey man of choice has his hand in all the pockets, fingers on all the buttons.
The variations are as numerous as the crackpots.
In an elevator, it takes mere seconds to rise from ground level to the third floor. It’s an old system, and the clank and grind of its gears and cables exhaust the ear and seem to spawn an endless succession of headaches. Most days, I take the stairs for precisely these reasons. But one day, feeling particularly challenged by gravity and my ever-fatter mass, I opt for the lift. Crammed into the cozy space, I occupy the back left corner. I tuck in my elbows, breathe as quietly as possible, and avoid eye contact.
This is my mother’s apartment building, a tenement full with the elderly and disabled poor. It’s utilitarian decor, industrial carpets and cinder block walls, not to mention that lingering stench of liniment oils and wet diapers, do little to lighten the overall sensation that many residents here have stopped really living and are merely biding their time until the shuttle arrives to take them to the great Bingo Casino in the sky.
Several, though, are as spry and energetic now as most of us have ever been. Their problem, if there is one, is the lack of social stimulation. Management here does a good job of creating community, and the activity list posted on the corkboard is long and stuffed with ways to fill the time. Residents seem to crave the chance to chat about their lives and rehash their multitudinous memories.
On this morning elevator ride, squeezed into the corner next to a limping Jazzy and its wild-eyed pilot, behind a corpulent care work who bites her nails when the food runs out, and blessedly separated by several bodies from an old man who quite noticeably dribbles all over himself now that his aim, and in fact his weapon, aren’t what they used to be.
As we depart the ground floor, I hear the metal straining under this behemoth load. It’s a slow start that slowly gains momentum until, once it’s up to half speed, it shudders to a stop on the second floor.
Off leap the worker and the sad dribbler. Relieved by the onrush of fresh air and a lighter load, I actually smile at my lone companion, atop his pedestrian hot rod and quite dapper under the brim of his bright red baseball cap, so obviously brand new and adorned with shiny white embroidery that proclaims a political allegiance: Trump Is Yuuge, it reads.
Whether it refers to his wig, or his weapon, isn’t quite clear.
My smile withers as the old man opens his mouth. I fear the toothless depths and what might arise.
“I worked the elevator in Building 7 of the World Trade Center back in the 1980s,” he flapped his jaws. “You know that was an inside job, right?”
He must’ve mistaken my sudden reticence and the widening of my eyes as a form of agreement.
The Dirty Laundry List:
Bohemian Grove? Check. JFK and the CIA? Check. AIDS as a tool for genocide deployed against the gays (his word) and the druggers (also his word)? Check.
Bill Clinton in cahoots with the queen of England to smuggle cocaine onto an Arkansas airfield? Check.
We traveled only one floor — from 2 to 3 — and in that time the moon landing was faked, the Masons built America to resurrect the Roman Empire and prepare the way for a Second Caesar who will fly the flag of the United Nations.
Cancer was cured yet Big Pharma kept the recipe buried in a locker at Grand Central Station. The pope wore the key around his neck.
Bush Jr. and Sr.? Clones bred for political power. Barbara was no different. Notice her resemblance to the Queen of England? They come from the same laboratory, ia bunker sunk deep under the Lone Star State where the U.N. was marshalling its forces and preparing to force the Euro into American markets.
And then there’s the lizard people who really call the shots.
This was obviously just the beginning. His list was already exhaustive. His grasp of world affairs was impressive, and his abuse of fantasy and conjecture to fill in history’s gaping plot holes was simply ingenious.
Then, he asked, “What do you think?”
It was more a challenge, really. A test to see if I’d crawled out of the Texas People Factory myself, craving soylent green and biding my time until the apocalypse.
He turned a jaundiced blue eye in my direction, challenging me to state a contrary opinion just as the door to the third floor — my stop and suddenly my perceived deliverance — creeped open.
I’d like to say that I quickly and effectively (yet politely) dispatched his leaps of logic with good sense. But I didn’t know this man. He was obviously quite taken with the theories he let bounce so raucously around in his thinning skull. Who was I to rain on his nutty parade?
Best case scenario? We agree to disagree and part ways with a handshake that indicates mutual respect. Not very likely.
Most likely scenario? I lambaste his ideas, ridiculing his gullibility and lack of critical thinking skills. I point out the fatal flaws in most conspiracy theories — hundreds, even thousands, of people who’d have to work together over decades to first plan the conspiracy, then carry it out.
Afterward, these same thousands — along with the additional thousands they would have told because people can’t keep secrets — would have had to keep quiet even as they aged and their burdened consciences quavered when their day of reckoning grew ever closer.
Worst case scenario? His outrage at my argument kicks off a series of physical processes and emotional failures that, like with so many other Trump supporters, suddenly makes him not merely cantankerous, but violent. Then, despite my best efforts to avoid violence, would get arrested for recklessly hot-wiring his Jazzy into an endless hard-right turn, a frantic loop of insanity that sounds like what I hear his candidate advocating.
So what actually happened? A quick nod, a condescending smile, and a reply tossed over my departing shoulder:
“People are really fucked up when you dig down deep enough., right?”
He beamed ever wider, so much so I feared for the fate of his remaining molar. “Ayup,” he crowed, clearly happy to have found a like-minded bloke to share an elevator ride.
“Going up,” he shouted, pressing hard on the number five with a bent thumb and shaking hand.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.