At the Ministry of Mystery

Here’s the seventh and final installment of my Ministry Series:

 

I had searched long enough – too long – and was ready to give up on my quest for the Great Secret. Life without Meaning was too painful to endure, and I determined to go home and end my life by my own hand. I was parched with thirst, in a semi-delirium and near fainting. I only entered the government building to find a water fountain, to quench my thirst and find the strength to make it home. Inside, I asked a security guard where the nearest water was, and he pointed to a nearby door. I entered, slaked my thirst at the water fountain, and turned to leave.

A man in a trench coat and a slouch hat walked up to me. “Been looking for the Ministry of Mystery, have we?”

“But . . . how do you know?”

“Doesn’t matter. See, the thing is, it’s never in the same place twice. Finding it is . . . a matter of attitude. Just follow your nose, Bub. And believe.”

And then he was gone. I looked for him out in the hallway, but he was nowhere in sight. Only then did I notice the sign above the door: The Secretariat of Serendipity.

My head was suddenly, miraculously clear, my heart pounding: alive, alive, alive. I may have lost my Meaning, but I again found Hope. Back out on the street I felt the heat of the sun; studied with quicksilver awe the upturned faces of the members of a Cloud Counting Club as they stumbled past me on the sidewalk, unaware of their surroundings; followed my nose to a bakery, where I bought and ate a small cinnamon loaf; listened to the clang-buzz-tweet-roar-shuffle of city life. Looking as if with new eyes, I looked up and there it was: the ministry of Mystery – in a place where I had often looked and it had never been. I went inside.

There was only one person in the sparsely-furnished little office: a circus clown in full regalia, with a custard pie balanced on the fingertips of one hand. He beckoned mischievously with the other, and I crossed the room to face him. Beneath the face paint he looked – amazingly – like myself!

“Welcome, K.” he said in a voice just like my own. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“Expecting – you have? Who . . . who are you?”

“I am,” he replied, “the Truth.” He went on. “One day the village idiot was seen riding around lickety-split on his donkey, frantically looking for something. When people would ask him what he was looking for, he would reply, “I’m looking for my donkey!”

“Huh?”

“What you are looking for, bozo, is what is looking.”

“HUH?”

The clown looked deep into my eyes, soulful infinity in his gaze. “Remember,” he intoned, “who you really are.” And with that, he threw the pie in my face.

Food for thought.

 

And on that day I left Centre City, never to return. Up until then I had never really thought about the wider world wherein I now wander. I carry my few possessions in a sack, over my shoulder: wandering, working where there is work to be done, sojourning here and there when invited, getting to know new brothers and sisters, and loving the living of life. Pursuing the paradox now plain as the nose I follow throughout Homeland, singing my simple new song:

“My life is a quest, there’s a Grail I must claim.                                                                               (The Quest and the Grail are one-and-the-same.)”                                                                                                                                               ————————–

 

I’d love to hear from some of you who follow my blog what you think of my Ministry Series, and if you’d like to see more fiction on my blog. I’d thought the series to be complete, but am working on a new installment, “At the Ministry of Merchandise.” Thanks for reading!

Jeff Koob

 

 

 

At the Ministry of Misery?

Here’s the fifth (of seven) installments in my Ministry Series:

 

My unending search for Truth, the Great Secret, at one point seemed pointless. I was in despair. The Ministry of Mystery wasn’t listed in the Directory of Directorates, Bureaus, Ministries and Secretariats, and I’d given up looking for it after uncounted days of asking around. Whomever I’d asked would tell me the same thing: “It’s a mystery.”

One day amid the long rows of giant government edifices, teeming bureaucratic beehives, I thought for a split second that I’d found it. But the sign, in fact, read “Ministry of Misery, Third Floor.” The thought came that perhaps they might help to unburden me.

My depression seemed to get worse with every step I climbed, and by the time I reached the third floor I was half-blind with tears. I stood at the threshold of the first office I came to and paused to compose myself before I entered.

The man behind the counter put down his rubber stamp when I approached, looking up at me quizzically.

“Hello,” I said with forced cheerfulness. “I need some information.”

The man forced a smile and said, “Hello, I need some information.”

My smile faded. “Um, what kind of information?” I asked, puzzled.

“Um, what kind of information?” he queried in an equally puzzled tone.

A wave of despair washed over me and tears ran afresh. “You see, I’ve lost my Meaning and I’m trying to get it back. I’m miserable. I thought maybe you . . .”

The man behind the counter wept silently. “You see,” he said, “I don’t know why you’re here and I’m trying to understand. I’m despondent. I hope maybe you . . .”

“Look here!” I barked, hands on hips, suddenly angry. “I’m a tax-paying citizen, and when I come to a government office for help I do not expect to be mocked!”

He put his hands on his hips and barked back, “Look here! I’m a government employee, just doing my job; and when I’m doing my job properly, I do not expect to be criticized!”

“But this isn’t the kind of treatment I would expect at the Ministry of Misery!” I expostulated.

“But this is precisely the kind of treatment you’d expect at the Ministry of  Mimicry!”

I stepped back and looked at the sign above the counter. “Sorry,” I mumbled, chagrined. “Good day.”

“Sorry. Good day,” he mumbled back.

The Ministry of Misery was in the office next door. I went in, but apparently one of the secretaries had just hanged herself in the copying room, and all the staff members were weeping inconsolably. So I left to meander moodily in the metropolitan maze.

At the Ministry of Madness

Here’s the fourth installment (of seven) of my Ministry Series:

 

I never meant to seek the Ministry of Madness, but I suppose it had to happen sometime in my sometimes crazed pursuit of the supreme, serene Suchness that we all know, deep inside, is there. (But where?) It was on one of the many days  I spent seeking the elusive  Ministry of Mystery in Centre City’s massive maze of bureaucratic buildings. When I saw the arrow on the sign, “Ministry of Madness,” pointing down the corridor to the right, I instinctively went left. The first door I came to  simply had a question mark lettered on the frosted door glass.

I knocked. No answer. I tried the door handle and the door opened, pulling me through. Honest. The door closed behind me. The lettering on the door glass now read “Ministry of Madness,” only backwards. I blinked and the door was gone. I swear that’s how it happened, how I came to find myself in the waiting room of the Ministry of Madness.

I was not alone. A slack-faced angel (halo and all) shared the couch beneath the clock with a smiling alligator in a three-piece suit, and the Knave of Hearts, just like in the card deck. The hands on the clock moved rapidly in opposite directions. The walls were hairy and seemed to breathe. Mad Muzac leaked from unseen speakers. There was no door in sight.

“Would you kindly stop bombarding me with your Zenoid death rays?” the alligator asked politely. The angel giggled, drooling. The Knave mumbled something about a strawberry festival. “Take a number,” said a dwarf with teeth like knives, who was standing beside a water cooler filled with what appeared to be blood. “Or, better yet, have some pomegranate seeds.” Next to him, in a straight-backed chair, sat a little old lady dressed in black. Antlers protruded from her bonnet. She was knitting what looked like a shroud.

“But I don’t want a number! You see, I came in by mistake. I don’t want to be seen; I just want to find the exit!”

There was a moment of silence, and all eyes were on me. Then they began to chortle, cackle, howl, giggle – each adding to a cacophony of mad mirth. “By mistake!” roared the alligator. “No one comes here by mistake. You come by appointment!”

“If you don’t want to be seen,” howled the dwarf, “then disappear!”

“Find the exit?” cackled the horned granny.

“STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL!” roared the Knave, rising and advancing. He grabbed me by my collars and sputtered in my face, “Electricity is leaking from the wall sockets, causing sundry puppet mutations! Tidal slime emanations curdle imminent remedies! Noisome machine holograms cloud the aether with flux vibrations! And all you care about is your crusty CONSENSUS REALITY! Your Living Theatre! You think that’s where you’ll find your precious Secret?”

Either I or the room began to fade. “You know the secret?” I implored.

“Paf!” said Auntie Antlers.

“See you later,” intoned the ‘gator.

“Take a number, any number,” sneered the dwarf.

“Now that you know where to come, don’t be a stranger.” The vacant-eyed angel beckoned seductively.

And I found myself back in the Land of Laws, the Living Theatre, standing in the sterile street, still bereft of Meaning, all madness faded into the mundane.

It was on a Monday.

At the Ministry of Meaning

For the next few weeks my blog will feature a fictional work in seven “chapters” that I call The Ministry Series. It’s both a Kafkaesque “Grail Quest” and a social satire, set in Centre City. I wrote it while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kingston, Jamaica which, being the capital city, is rife with Ministries, Bureaus, Secretariats and such. Among my literary influences were Franz Kafka (content), J. P. Donleavy (style), and Terry Gilliam’s movies, “Brazil” and “The Fisher King.”

 

Call me K.  I live in Centre City, the capital of Homeland, and always have. I have lived alone for as long as I can remember. I suppose I once had a family, but I’ve lost touch. The city, you see, is vast; and the desperate press and bustle of commerce and government regulation, the mass of faces that I pass in the streets, in the hallways, have somehow eroded my memory. I had friends once, I’m sure of that. And I must have had a job, although I haven’t gone to work for as long as I can remember. I forget how long I can remember.

But for as long as that is, I’ve been occupied – preoccupied you might say – with but one thing: finding the Great Secret, thereby recovering the Meaning that my life once surely had. I know there is a Great Secret, I feel it. There is a Hidden Tradition, and I know I’m not the first to seek it. I even found a book titled The Great Secret. It was blank.

So every day, a dog on the trail of Truth, I haunt the huge hives that house the bureaus, the directorates, the secretariats and the ministries that are the skeleton of our civilization. How do I live? Through some bureaucratic error I get a check every month, issued by the Ministry of Mystery; so maybe I used to work there. Only . . . I can find no evidence that there is, or ever has been, a Ministry of Mystery.

When I first realized that I had lost my Meaning, and set out on my solitary search through the labyrinth of government agencies to find it, the Ministry of Meaning was a logical first stop. I found the address in the Directory of Directorates, Bureaus, Ministries and Secretariats, and got there an hour before closing time. There were few ahead of me in the waiting area, and it wasn’t long before one of the several clerks at the long, partitioned service counter said “Next,” meaning me. I stepped up to the counter and looked the young clerk in his empty eyes.

“Good afternoon,” I said. “I’ve, um, sort of lost the Meaning in my life, or maybe forgotten it, more like. It’s really rather discouraging, and I . . . I wondered if you could, ah, help me. Please?”

“Life,” the clerk said lifelessly. “L. Volume 12.” So saying, he turned in his swivel chair and ran a finger down the spines of a row of numbered books on a shelf behind the counter, then swiveled back, Volume 12 of the Meaning Manual in hand. He opened it, riffled through the pages, then ran his finger down a column of headings. Every fourth or fifth heading he read aloud, “da-dum, da-dum” ing his way through the interim items.

“Labels. . . labor . . . lachrymation. . . lamentation. . . literalism. . . laughter. . . laxity. . . leadership. . . learning. . . legendry. . . lemming migration. . . levity. . . liability. . . libel. . . liberalism. . . lies. . . (da-dum, da-dum, etc.) limitations.” He looked up. “I’m sorry, sir. There’s no meaning listed for ‘life’.”

“But. . . surely life has to mean something!”

“Not necessarily; not according to the manual.” He smiled blankly and tried not to sound condescending. “Look. Surely you wouldn’t suggest that everything has to mean something. We here at the Ministry take it as a given that some things just are. I mean, does every stone or star have to mean something?”

“But. . . how about you? Doesn’t life mean anything to you?”

“Nothing comes to mind, sir.”

“But, I mean, um, hasn’t anyone else ever come here and asked about the Meaning of life?”

“Not that I recall, sir.”

I was desperate. “Ah, now you must know a lot about Meaning, since you work here. Just speculation, now – if life did have a meaning, what do you think it might be?”

“That would just be meaningless speculation, sir. If life had meaning, it would be in the manual, now wouldn’t it. And I’m not a Licensed Philosopher. We do, however, have one on the staff. In the Consumer Relations Department.”

“No, thank you. One more question, then I won’t trouble you any longer. Have you ever heard of the Great Secret?”

“No, I’m sure I’ve never. I suggest that you consult the Secretariat of Secrecy.”

I thanked him and left, musing over mankind’s manifest meaninglessness, alone as a soul-less stone.