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Ek Chuah and The Second America
I believe in the existence of a second America. An America of secrets, of things beneath the surface. This is hardly an original idea. Many writers have posited the idea of a secret world beneath ours, in one sense or another.
But they write about these worlds as hidden, magical things; things that rise up from the depths or fall down from space with sinister intent. But ultimately, these narratives are damaging. They present the world of the fantastic as being somehow separate from our own. Somehow unattainable. But they’re wrong. If you look, you can find the Second America just about anywhere. But only at night. Indeed, only those who walk by night know and sense that change that occurs in the very nature of a place once the sun goes down.
I only feel this here in America, though, the country of my birth. I do not sense any kind of nightly change in the atmosphere of foreign countries. Then again, I don’t live there. I’m not as “tuned-in” to “what’s happening,” to use the talk of the young people.
Ah, the young people. You find many of them in the Second America. In streets, alleys, and parks. “The children of the night, what music they make!” Their wails become a chorus, the jangling of bejewelment and belt-buckles an exotic percussion section, and the squeeking sounds of sliding surfaces become like the creeching of angry violins. This is the anthem of the Second America. A bodacious Beethovenian bacchanal!
Some nights, though, one tires of this noise, and on one such night, I cut through an area of the residential park that nobody ever goes to. It’s the bank of a river that flows directly under the highway. People mostly use the place for disposing of old pianos. So, I was sitting, underneath the shade of a fir that grew there, listening to the sounds of the highway and whistling “Bay of Blood” to myself, when I noticed the sounds of breathing coming from behind. Looking behind me, I saw what looked to be a boulder, but upon turning on the flashlight setting of my phone, I realised this was in fact a massive human shape curled in the fetal position. The breathing was likely in my imagination, as it appeared to be a sculpture of muddy grey-and-brown clay. The face was an absolutely comical sight. Its eyes were big and buggy, and its nose was like a rose thorn and a toucan beak had produced an offspring.
There is a yearning in human beings. A yearning to destroy and mess around with the creative expression of others. This yearning was exercised by the visigoths and vandals in rome, by the Vatican during their fig leaf campaign, and likely by you on those occasions when you find an unattended sand castle or chalk drawing.
Similarly, I had an itch to etch obscenities into the hide of this clay goliath, and so I grabbed a stick from the ground and poked it. The moment the stick came into contact with the thing, I became overwhelmed by a sense of cosmic euphoria, and began to experience a vivid shamanic vision. I was in my bed, with an four-foot-long scorpion resting on my chest. This scorpion had a large curved horn-like structure extending from its cephalothorax, and seemed to be translucent everywhere except this horn and its tail. Suddenly, the thing spat something at me… I can’t begin to describe what it was. It didn’t exist visually. It was like liquid sound, trickle-whispering things into my ears. Secret things, forbidden things.
“There are Smurfs in the Smithonian.” “There is no Majestic Twelve.” “The secret ingredient of antifreeze is love.” “Australia isn’t real.” “Ph'nglui h' wgah'nagl llll Pegana mglw'nafh Mana-yood-sushai fhtagn.”
It continued like this for what felt simultaneously like all of time and no time at all, when suddenly I awoke in my room (an unusual occurrence indeed), inexplicably covered in micro-granules of hot-cocoa powder, and overcome with the notion that the geometry of the walls had somehow shifted in its dimensions.
I later recounted this experience to a friend of mine, who runs a tea shop downtown. It seemed to upset him. Silently, he went to the back of the shop, and returned with an old book, already opened to a specific page.
Ek Chuah was the god of the Maya. To them, he represented the concepts of commerce and chocolate. In some drawings he bears skin of a gray-brown hue, large eyes, a long and curved nose…
and the tail of a scorpion.