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Ordeal by Infrastructure

Dreamed 1987/11/22 by Chris Wayan

As a politician hoping to enter the highest circles, I have no choice but to face the Ordeal.

The Nameless Movers choose my task, and I leave alone on foot, walking out of downtown toward the river and up the elevated railroad track onto a train-bridge, high over the water. I sit nervously on the girders of a high steel bridge. Dream sketch by Wayan.

I climb over the rail, and start down one tower in the stiff wind. I didn't think I feared heights, but this has me dizzy. I stop and deep-breathe at the hundred-foot level, till my hands ache on the ladder. I shuffle on down to the water. There, I wade waist-deep in the rivercurrent, and balance on a narrow girder under the water's face, walking over to a long diagonal strut rising to another pier. I climb that, with no railing or ladder this time, shivering in the wind and clinging to the slippery steel, till I reach the road again.

It's horribly difficult and I shake with more than cold when I reach a tiny hanging cage above the river. Now it seems a safe haven, though when I started, I'd have shuddered with fear just to sit in it, an abyss below me and wind whistling through...

And they hoist me up, wrap me in a blanket, and... explain some facts to me. The facts of infrastructure.

The inner circle of politicians that I want to join have spent several trillion dollars to transform themselves into towers and bridges and railroads--even rivers. They started out human, but now they're something more. Infrastructure! The nation truly depends on them now.

I'm shocked by their indulgence. Idiots! Spending public money on mega-projects just so they can turn themselves into their own monuments! Who says all those roads were needed? At the least, their judgment is suspect. Silently, I swear to stop this terrible drain of taxpayer money.

But I may not get the chance. They've already planned to have me changed too! It's not malice; they see it as an honor and a gift, not a theft of my body or a ripoff of public funds.

"After all," says one, "we work hard, as infrastructure!"

Another confesses "One reason we all want to be part of the political landscape is so we can test initiates' REAL character--see how they act when they think they're alone!"

And I realize, with a sinking feeling, that this isn't theoretical. I wasn't alone when I panicked out on that bridge-pier. I was crawling around on a politician, and probably wading through another, before that. I feel strange, knowing they weren't just watching me, but feeling me crawl on their giant bodies like a flea. Judging me by some inscrutable river and bridge standard.

Judging flesh by the ways of water and steel.

Then the Inner Circle tells me: "You passed your ordeal." And maybe they're right. You see, I do feel different. Their ordeal was not... gratuitous. It had a point, though I don't consciously understand. And maybe their transformations aren't gratuitous, either. I have to reserve judgment on these... people. Structures. Whatever.

And yet... I still don't want to BE one.

Trucks cross a bridge; a barge passes beneath; all have eyes. Dream sketch by Wayan.


What's this mean? I'm not sure--but check the date! I dreamed it years before Clinton's talk of "infrastructure" and "information superhighways". I'm not sure if it's a testimonial to my own state of mind, or a warning about the odd, bland hubris of the Clinton Administration--when pundits explained to us that due to technology, recessions could never happen again.

I suspect there's something subtler here, something I couldn't express in words, only in this ambivalent image... Doesn't the politicians' sacrifice of their mortal bodies for some steely ideal of statesmanship seem, well... extreme? Flesh-hating, anti-life? Yet their desire to serve was genuine, and somehow, the initiation was, too... Its fear and suffering changed me--gave me something. Could their ordeals and transformations have given them something I didn't understand? It's so easy to mock American politicians--it's our national pastime--yet are they, in some way, an unappreciated part of our infrastructure, bridges we rely on without noticing they're alive?

I don't get this dream. I do get that there's something going on in American politics--no, in statesmanship--that I don't get. That makes politicians seem mechanical, mere wind-up bribe-taking clowns. When there's a living spirit of service lurking in there--in the inititates of the Ordeal, at least.

Who are they? Why won't they show themselves more openly? Could it be that public service, that sacrifice itself, is something you can't reveal in America? As if it's a personality flaw! Maybe it gives voters the creeps. After all, in the dream, it gave me the creeps.

A pig--now, that we understand. Tell me--why is that? Why do we understand pigs, but not statesmen willing to sacrifice themselves?

Maybe we've gotten the political infrastructure we deserve. What a horrible thought!

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