“Some other power, some third class of individuals aside from the leaders and the scholars must exist, and this third class must have the task of thwarting mistakes, and nipping the causes of potential disturbances in the bud. There must be a body of men whose task it is to throw out the rotten apples as soon as the first spots of decay appear. A body of this nature must exist undercover. It must either be a power unto itself or be given the broadest discretionary powers by the highest authorities.”
From a 1945 report titled The World after the War: OSS-SOE, The Invisible Empire authored by the Harvard anthropologist Carleton S. Coon for OSS Chief William Donovan.
Holding my mother’s hand was a wonderful thing. Every day was the right kind of day when I got to spend time with her. She would get me candy and buy me G.I. Joe or He-Man: Masters of the Universe toys from the local drug store. There was a section in Aisle 4 just for toys, and I can see it as clear today as I did 37 years ago.
There wasn’t much else in town at that time other than the drug store and a few grocery stores. A mall was being built and a new high school had just opened. At the time there was only one mine in operation North of town and a second being built. More would come.
There were rumors that prostitutes had been buried underneath the massive concrete slab which supported the new refinery being built to process the oil coming out of the mine, and a wall of the high school had collapsed killing a worker. These are some of the important memories I have of that time.
There is also a smell which I can still smell sometimes now. The origin of the smell is lost on me. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know where I first smelled it. But it comes back to me in an instant for no apparent reason. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving on the highway or walking downtown in the city, when it comes it comes out of nowhere and vanishes just as fast. It always makes me think of some kind of baking, but I don’t really know.
There’s one memory which has always troubled me. It was a summer day and I was going with my mother so she could get her hair cut. The new high school had a beautician class which was providing free haircuts for those who didn’t mind the students practicing on them. Holding my mother’s hand we entered the school through one of the side doors. The hallway on the other side was long, sterile and empty. Cold fluorescent lights receded down the length of the corridor, disappearing into a pinpoint somewhere at the end. It made me feel uneasy.
We walked about a third of the way down the corridor and stopped at a door with a wooden bench just to the left. My mother told me to sit on the bench and not run off anywhere. Doing as I was told I climbed up on the bench and began playing with the Skeletor figure I had brought with me. Skeletor was He-Mans arch-nemesis. In my imagination, Skeletor always beat He-Man.
A long time passed and I was becoming quite bored. There suddenly came a clicking of heels on the hard floor of the corridor from further down the longer end. Turning my head I saw a well-dressed woman approaching me holding something in her hands. She didn’t smile and had something of a stern look on her face.
The woman stopped in front of me and I could see that she held Castle Grayskull, the fortified home of He-Man. Of all the toys it was Castle Grayskull which I wanted the most. The drug store had some a few weeks before and I begged my mother to get one for me. She couldn’t because it was too expensive and my father would get upset about spending so much hard earned money on junk.
The woman looked down at me and said: “You want this don’t you?”
“Yes”, I said.
“Well”, she continued, “if you come with me I will give it to you.”
Feelings of both fear and excitement passed through me. Hopping down from the bench I stared at the door with my mother somewhere on the other side getting her hair done. Staring back at the woman I nodded my head and she passed me the Castle Grayskull. Holding it tight against my chest with my right hand I took her outstretched hand with my left.
“I’m your mother now,” said the woman, and we began to walk towards the exit.
Just before reaching the outside I heard the door back down the hallway swing open. My mother ran out into the corridor with a towel wrapped around her head. She was screaming for me to come back. Tears were rolling down her face as her broken voice reverberated off the walls towards me.
“Remember,” said the woman, “we had a deal.”
Turning we walked outside and into the blinding light of a summer afternoon. The screams of my mother faded and disappeared. There is nothing more I remember from this point. Years later as an adult I would ask my mother if she remembered anything like that and she could not.
Was it a dream? It didn’t feel like one.
The smell is not a dream, as I still smell it today. But the smell is not a part of the Castle Grayskull memory. It comes from somewhere and something else. There are flashes of 1970s experimental audio and video equipment. You know, those odd green colored ones on squeaky wheeled metal carts.
As a grew older I eventually started working in the growing mining industry. The large mining equipment fascinated me and I had the opportunity to build a career in the sales and business end of the industry. There were times when I would drive south of town on the one highway to get as far away as I could before stopping and turning around to go back to work or go home. Though I loved mining and the equipment, I hated the town and the things I couldn’t remember.
Eventually, I started a family, had three sons, and when the first opportunity came to leave town, and the industry, to move south to a big city, I took it. Little did I know that I left for all the wrong reasons and life was about to punish me for doing what I did.
After years of hardship and the breakup of my family, I was forced back north and back into the town I had left behind 5 years before. There was something I missed. Something I didn’t learn before. Something which eluded my careful observations.
But life has not been cruel to me overall. It has kept my sons in my life and has given me two new families. Life has allowed me to build anew that which I lost, and I have been allowed to build this in a large city south of the town where I grew up. Work still takes me there often, but I feel there is something which will reveal itself soon. This thing will free me from it all finally. But for the right reasons this time.
Starting and building Philosophy of Metrics is a part of this journey of self-discovery for me, but I’m not fully sure why yet. POM has allowed me to evolve both inside and outside as it all progresses towards something much more important.
Perhaps we have all gathered here for something which remains secret. For the time being at least. There are invisible connections which we do not understand. These invisible connections tether us through our sharing, love, fear, doubt, excitement, and yearning for truth.
I’m not exactly sure why I’m sharing this. But I feel I have too. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Why the time is right now I have no idea. Maybe the end of this particular season of my life is coming and a new turn is about to happen. Maybe I’m reaching through the madness of lost things to grab hold of that invisible tether and hope that my POM family can understand something which I do not.
Sometimes I’m afraid, and sometimes I cry. Sometimes I miss holding my mother’s hand. – JC
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JC Collins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org