High on the Plains: The Crystallized World of Mechanical Elves

Chad Christensen, Staff Writer

Window air conditioners are a strange thing. Or, at least, the one I own is. I sleep upstairs and our main air conditioner for the house doesn’t seem to kick out enough juice to get up there, so—we have a window unit as well. At night, it makes an odd horror-like drone, and when I listen to it as I try to fall asleep, I can almost hear something beneath it all. It’s like a distant mechanical sound infused with what appears to be children screaming. It’s—unsettling. And it makes it hard to sleep.

So as the sounds of terror come from my window, my wife and child sleeping next to me, I do the usual human routine: I think about all the ways I suck at life. I think it’s a fairly natural thing. You bum rush the mind with a lot of self-loathing and it can’t help but shut itself down. A kind of defense mechanism for the body, I suppose—which is good. We need something to protect us from our own inner gibberish.

Some people think the movie Groundhog Day is funny. Not me. I find it a bit too close to reality. Everywhere I look, there are endless routines and patterns. And almost every person I encounter seems to be oblivious to this or are just plain not talking about it.

A friend of mine did DMT a few years back. When I asked about it, his wife told me he screamed for fifteen minutes and then he was fine. “A skyrocket into the crystallized world of mechanical elves.” I think Terrance McKenna said that. Or something close to it. The need to look behind the curtain can be a dangerous one. Respectable, but dangerous.

Last week I was driving down highway 35 and I could see something in the middle of the road. At first, I thought it was just roadkill or part of a blown out tire—but as I got closer I could see it was a ring-necked pheasant. And it was definitely not dead. It was standing there, calm and stoic, as the cars ahead of me drove fiercely past it—and not for one moment was it flustered. It knew what it was doing.

We made eye contact briefly as I drove by. Then, with my eyes back on the road, I saw it: A giant semi barreling down the hill. The bird was screwed. I watched in my rearview as it stood there. I wasn’t sure whether to weep or cheer for the damn thing. A few seconds later the semi passed through it without hesitation and the bird was gone. No POOF of feathers or anything. It was riding on the eternal grill of death.

I hadn’t thought about the bird until yesterday morning. I went out the back door of my friend’s house and in the alley, there was a giant zucchini sitting in the road. I stared at the vegetable for several minutes, hoping, I suppose, that someone would come up to me and explain things. No one arrived.