The voice on the other side of the phone had been soft and welcoming. She encouraged him to find meaning and do the exercises as planned. She said, this was his moment of truth and the entire experiment hinged on his being able to embrace the Moment.
Wishing he had a clue our hero still felt lost, despite being at the GPS location.
“Follow the instructions” she warned him.
He sat on the edge of a curb that lead down towards a parking garage. Cool air floated upwards from the basement level and he looked down at it with contempt and fear. The street was a small quiet one-way somewhere between Walnut and Market. He looked again at the GPS and noticed the little icon circle wasn’t exactly on target, it was off by a little bit, and he asked himself if he cared. It was just a random job, and he was on his first assignment on his first day.
“Well now, ain’t you a surprise, I think today is gonna be an odd one.”
The woman was standing a few feet off and looked like she could be anywhere between the age of 40 between 90. Her skin was dark, rough and weathered. He had no idea what she was shaped like, as she wore layers and layers of clothes and a hoodie tightly pulled over her head.
“Ok” he said.
She moved closer and he stood up to greet her with fear, her long strange fingers pointing at him.
“You don’t look like I expected.” she said.
“Do you want money?” he asked but sensed the rebuke in her face. “…or some food?”
She looked past him into the dark strange triangle where the odd angles of a parking garage went both up and down.
“Your suppose to be down there.” She pointed.
The phone was in his hand and he looked again at the GPS dot.
Waving him away, she turned around to move off slowly in the other direction.
“I’ll see you later” stated as a fact as she disappeared.
“What the hell was that?” he wondered aloud then turned towards the entrance to into the basement part of the garage. After a few short stairs, it took a moment to adjust to the dark space. A few cars were parked towards a back elevator entrance but it was mostly hollow. He used the light from his phone and perfected the icon circle over the GPS grid, and found himself just under the same little triangle space that he had just sat by and an archaic grey square box.
The Bell symbol still sat on the edge, after all …. Philadelphia was an important part of the history of the telephone. Perhaps someone forgot it was down here, or never bothered to check, but here was a rare old fashioned telephone line. The money container has been pulled open, the phone had been cut off and the old light on top had been smashed. Graffiti had been scratched over the entire surface like tattoos.
“This is it?” he wondered.
He wanted to call the office again, but she would just point to the little card with instructions.
International Consciousness Research Laboratory: Randonaut instruction manual
Step 1. Get an attractor generated GPS location.
Step 2. Go to the location.
Step 3. Keep track of randomness, difficulties and take notes.
Step 4. Meditate at location for 10 mins.
Step 5. Find meaning in the experience.
Step 6. Get another Attractor and repeat the process until the time frame is exhausted.
Step 7. Write a full report.
Wondering if they were tracking him, he sat on a little milk crate upside down next to the phone booth and waited the 10 mins. Since there was nothing to do and he couldn’t risk using the company phone. He just sat still and breathed with his eyes open.
Thoughts rose, of doubt, of a paycheck and the fact that he was out of weed and money. Doing this job sober was taxing and if he was high right now, it would be so much more fun. After a bit, he looked up and saw his name.
It was shocking to say the least, but it was written in clear black ink, and next to a phone number. Finding meaning in the experience was the entire point, so he called the number with the Scientist’s phone.
“Hello, welcome to Mexican Consulate of Philadelphia front desk, how may I help you today?”
He thought for a second.
“Sorry, hi, um is Hugo, in today?”
“I apologize sir, I would need a full name to direct your…..” he hung up.
Finding meaning is a strange idea. Was it meaningful that his name was written in graffiti, or a strange woman seemed to be in on the act? It was time to go anyways, so he pulled the App up, logged in his numbers and it created an Attractor GPS location. It was very far from here, so he jumped at the chance to leave the weird basement. Hugo wasn’t sure if becoming a Randonaut was worth the money, but he didn’t have to work in a stuffy office and it was a paycheck.
There were days, back when he had a regular job at the airport, during his commute, when he would lose track of where the train was. Suddenly he would look up and it was 30th street station and he had to lunge for the door. Today, he experienced every stop in slow motion. Did he remember it taking this long to get to West Philly? Time is funny that way. The train was steadily climbing out of the subway depths of darkness into the light of the bridge. It was like a glorious sunrise.
The Attractor point turned out to be an alleyway, a couple big dumpsters and the smell of rotting food. He sat on a little stoop to wait. Almost instantly a door opens across the way and a man in an apron and hairnet comes out. He eyes the young man and pulls out a cigarette. Hugo tries not to stare but he was faced directly at him. They nod at each other, and the man looks back inside, closing the door to restaurant sounds and lights his cigarette.
“Why you hanging out back here?” the man moves towards the stoop.
Cigarette butts lie at Hugo’s feet, a dozen or so, and a few empty soda cans. He realizes that he is in the guy’s spot, and shifts over, making room.
“I am on this job right now, they make me wait at certain spots.”
“Ahh” as if it all makes sense. “You smoke?”
“Sometimes, I don’t have any, right now.”
“I mean, like smoke.” the universal joint is metaphorically smoked and they understand each other.
Hugo smiles big. “Haha, out of that too, I mean really out. It would make it really easy to do this crazy job.”
“It’s your lucky day, Boss. I got a 10 min break and I am not going back in to wash those dishes sober. You want a hit?”
The two men cozy up on the little stoop, and Hugo gets handed a little one hit. He expertly takes a big puff and holds it, passing it to his new friend.
“Ahhh, I needed that, a thousand thanks.”
“No worries” as the dishwasher takes a big hit “So what’s the job?”
Handing over the little card, he explains the process shortly, and looks at the GPS on his phone making sure the location was precise.
“That’s dope, you get paid to run around the city, just hanging out in places. Shit, I do that anyways.”
Hugo shrugs his shoulders and accepts a cigarette. “It’s more scientific or something. They are studying randomness, probability and Tunnel realities. I dunno, it was confusing, but I am supposed to look for meaning.”
“In an alleyway?”
“Wherever it sends me.”
“Yeah. where are you from?”
The dishwasher looks at the door, regretting his life choices. “New Mexico, my Dad was Navajo, my mother Mexican. I’ve lived in America my whole life, but they treat my like an immigrant here in Philly.”
“Sorry, My dad was Puerto Rican, straight from the island. I’ve never been or met him actually.”
“You don’t look like you got any Latino in you.”
They laughed and both realized the time was up and the dishwasher stood.
“Thank you, again.” said the Randonaut
“I hope you find your meaning.” they share a hug “stay strong Brother.”
Hugo left the alleyway and went looking for some food.
The silver food cart, had a decent variety, he was half way tempted to get the tacos, but felt like a sandwich. It was too far to the WaWa, so he just got an Italian sub and a soda from lady. She wasn’t too busy, so they chatted about his tattoos. A tattoo always has a way to bring people together.
“My husband saw a UFO once.” She said. “I believe him, he was a boy at the time, walking to his best friend’s house. One of those weirdo kids who always saw strange stuff. Sure enough, there was this big silver disc above the kid’s house.”
“Yeah, my husband is a cop now, and he sees all kinds of weird stuff, but he swears it was as real as anything else he’s experienced.”
Our hero gets his sub and begins the next step on the phone.
The next attractor wasn’t too far away, so he relaxed and ate it slowly, watching the students and professors order lunch. The cart stayed busy, but the lady never hurried or lost her cool. She made food and smiled. He thought she looked happy in her silver cart, sweating by a stove, or maybe he was just stoned.
The Attractor tree stump was large and freshly cut lay in the middle of the university quad. Some students lay around on the grass, so he fit it. This attractor was a big step up from the alleyway. Hugo rested next to the stump in the sun and basked, not even looking at the clock for his 10 min time frame.
Meaning was everywhere.
A small tree seemed to float in the breeze, while other trees seemed to barely move. He noticed that ants had begun to explore the top area of the freshly cut tree, as the sawdust covered a brown space that once was their kingdom. He noticed the clouds in the distance that could mean rain, and Italian subs made him sleepy. Coffee was the next goal of his life, but he was down to change in his pocket.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, and felt the world dissolve for a moment. The Mexican Consulate came to his mind. Was Hugo a Latino name and did it matter? He wasn’t from anywhere and he was from everywhere. Dreams flowed and he remembered nothing, but a falling feeling and a Siren sang to him from somewhere east of here.
Then he snapped awake and looked at his clock. 10 mins or so, had passed. He put in his numbers and got a new Attractor. He was headed to Washington avenue near the 9th street market.
“Help yourself to some coffee?”
He smiled and accepted the offer. It took about 30 mins in the waiting room to get into to see the boss, who was amused but busy. He smiled in a friendly way and ushered the young man in.
“So, please fill me in.” asked the large Italian man sitting across from him in the tiny office. “What is the ICRL?”
Hugo handed him the pamphlet he was holding.
“International Consciousness Research Laboratories. They are conducting experiments into randomness and synchronicity. My job is to examine and uncover these occurrences and discover meaning. This building is my next attractor.” Hugo looked around with a stoned feeling taking in the old wood panel interior and large floor room looking window
“Sure… sure.” he smiled. “Do you need money?”
“No sir, I am required in the case of a business being the Attractor location, to interview someone about the building and its purpose or function. To discern meaning.”
Across the desk, the man just smiled but his eyes seemed to move about in unusual ways as if unsure what the con was. He was looking for the angle and needed more information.
“This building used to be owned by some very connected sorts, if you catch my drift, just offices really, but they used to do some bookie work. Underground gambling and the sort, we sometimes get one of the old neighborhood guys, now senile, wander in and try to place a bet or pay a loan back.”
He laughs in an uproarious cackle and returns to serious face in an all too short fashion for Hugo’s taste who began to realize no one knew where he was.
“We got a legit business now, I mean…. I have a legitimate business now.”
He leans in, folding his fingers together and holding an intense look.
“You sure your from some Science outfit?”
“Yes, sir. It’s my first day, and I have never done this type of thing before.” Hugo had not been nervous until this moment. As if the glow of marijuana had suddenly left his being and he was faced with a reality of subtext and meaning. “I am just doing what they tell me to do.”
Hugo nervously handed him the phone and the app and told him about smoking in the alley, and his name on the garage. He wanted to make sure that he was understood as just an innocent guy wandering around the city, poking his nose in other people’s business for a paycheck.
The large bald man left his desk and ushered Hugo to the window, looking out over a warehouse space where boxes, sat in dusty stasis. He points out at them.
“Products, legitimately bought by my clients and unable to find a home. Everyone buys from the internet now. They sit there day after day taking up space and I need to get rid of them. This is what I do. Try to empty a warehouse full of who knows what.” Sadness fills his eyes. “At one time, the hustle and bustle of this neighborhood kept you feeling alive. Now, it’s all headphones and yuppies and no one talks to each other. It’s sad really, the way my people came and built a neighborhood that everyone wants and my people can’t afford.
He goes to the desk and hands Hugo a card.
“I like your style, Hugo, it takes guts to walk into a random business with no agenda. You ever want to sell some of my stuff and make a bunch of money. Give me a call. All you got to do… is open some boxes and try to sell what’s inside. Give me a cut. Simple and easy.”
They shake hands and Hugo finds himself on the street with a business card and a curious feeling that the universe was fucking with him.
He had one final Attractor location. After a long thoughtful bus ride, Hugo got off at Front Street and wandered north. Looking at the GPS, he worried that he was going to end up on the freeway, that passed next to him on the right. Philly wasn’t his chosen home, or where he intended to stay, but it was a fun city and he enjoyed the solid brick history of it’s streets. He thought about the day, and how exhausted he felt, and he still had to write a report about the meaning of the Randomness. The card in his pocket could lead to something and his options were looking up. His mind was so far away that he didn’t see the statute until he was under it.
The eagle spread out it’s wings, and the face stared out into the horizon in New Jersey over the Delaware river.
“His name is Tamanend.”
She sat on a bench in front of the statue and watched him carefully. A pile of clothes sat next to her and it was as if she had been transformed. He barely recognized her from earlier.
“Read the words” the woman pointed at the text at the base.
“Live in peace as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.” He spoke the words aloud.
The woman now seemed much younger and had on a stylish black outfit that reminded him of Catwoman in the classic Batman TV show. Her legs were crossed and a smirk drifted across her dark face.
“Come sit by me…” as the pile of clothes were thrown towards a nearby trash can with mild success. “I use them as a disguise for my work, everyone ignores the old homeless black lady” smiling as the young man sat a reasonable distance away but still on the bench.
“How was your day… meaningful?”
“Yes” Hugo said “very, say do you work for the Scientists?”
“No, I’m more of a competitor, or at least I clean up their untrained messes.”
Hugo was confused, but she still had much to say.
“Tamanend is the patron saint of America, did you know that?” She went on without a pause.
“He symbolizes peace and unity and is also known as King Tammany. They have a festival in his name. When William Penn and the English settlers came to the Delaware Valley, it was in his court they sat and with him they made peace. He welcomed them as if they were also one of his own. It is said that he symbolizes the immigrant and the dream that when you enter this land, you are no longer European, African, Asian but you become an American.”
“Yes, it is patriotic but in the sense that this land, water and animals are America. The eagle on his shoulder and the turtle on which he stands are symbolic. Symbols full of meaning.”
“YES, the meaning!” He stood up and touched the head of the turtle. “All day long it’s been this theme of my immigrant ancestors and my sense of purpose. Hugo on the box, the Consulate, the Dishwasher, the Italians….all of it.”
“Hugo?” She asked
“It’s my name, sorry.. hi my name is Hugo”
He extended his hand and her soft hands surprised him as they had seemed so threatening before.
She smiled a beautiful smile and he sat down still in her grip.
“Hugo means Mind, or Intellect, depending on which European you ask, did you know that?” He nodded.
“I am called Oshun, like the African Goddess of the river.”
Hugo didn’t quite know how to take that statement.
“How did you know you would see me later? Are you a Randonaut?”
“Honey, I’ve been working with magic and random chance my whole life. No, your clever little scientists are in very ancient territory and they …..are stirring up quite a chaotic mess without realizing it. No my dear, I am a Witch and I just knew that I would see you later, as soon as I saw you. The signs had been pointing towards that spot for days.”
“Oh that makes sense..”
“Don’t pretend to understand, I like your funny little mind just the way it is. You did very well today, but you don’t need the GPS to find meaning in the random occurrences of life, all you have to do.. is listen.”
She stood up and never seemed more dazzling, her hair spinning around behind her like a whip. He marveled that she could hide under a hoodie and piles of cloths to remain undetected as the River Goddess she was. He was under spell and loving every second.
“Come my love, we have more to do tonight, the epic experience of Random Chance is still in the throes of our passionate searching.”
Hugo stood up and stuck his hand in his pocket to grab that card and muse over the potential again. She rose approached him and put her arm around his shoulders.
“Don’t be a Hugo using your limited mind, be a Hugo that uses your heart. A Goddess has offered to show you how to use the chaotic nature of the universe to create magic and meaning, there are no second chances.”
They begin to stroll on to the ancient bricks of Philadelphia, away from Patron Saint of King Tammany, the Delaware River and into the setting sun.
“Let us bridge the future with both Magic and the Mind and see where the Random Universe takes, shall we?”
“Hold on a second”. Hugo runs back across to the Statute and places the Scientists phone on top of the turtle’s head and runs back to join the beautiful River Goddess.
“For Science” Hugo says with a laugh.