The Latitudes of the Horse

Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South KoreaSaving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.Today, he gives us a preview of a new book he is working on. This is the first chapter, and you're the first to see it. Enjoy.

I’ve written it before in countless other languages and vernaculars, I’m writing it now, and it’s almost a certainty I’ll write it again. I don’t like what the world has become it seems like a great short sighted farce I can’t buy into. Too many people simply exist in a temperature controlled emotionless vacuum never wanting to be hot or cold, never wanting to wash a dish or cook a meal, opting to drive everywhere when what their body and soul scream for is a breath of fresh untainted air or a walk underneath an open sky.  In attempting to avoid the small discomforts and tragedies in life they’ve lost the simple joys. They’ve forgotten what it means to be human. The sooth of an ache in a hot spring, a day long thirst slaked from mountain stream, or the feel of an icy wind biting their skin as they thunder down out of the high steppe on horseback. They want to live in a world of their creation where they can peer down at the ruined wilds from whence they came, a world where they’ll be insulated from fear, sickness, and pain, eventually any emotion at all, floating unstimulated blobs who have forgotten how to live but are fixated on existing as long as they can.

In times of complete despair and disgust with the human race and what it’s become I search my memory for some redeeming quality, for the last time I felt like things and people mattered, for the last time I felt truly alive, adrenaline coursing through my veins, my cerebral cortex lighting up with stimuli. I’ve had glimpses of real life in the recent past, fragments of emotions I find in odd corners of the world, a peasant farmer in China, a street artist in Vladivostok, at a festival dedicated to Lord of Snow Star high in the Andes, in the eyes of a dying bull in Pamplona, in the roaring quiet of night in the Antarctic. There are still some places left that inspire awe, that make one feel small but I’m not sure how much longer it will remain so, people are spreading like bacteria over the face of the earth leaving in their wake a multitude of sores and cankers covered in thick black scabs, belching noxious brown smoke into the heavens. As if by design even the stars are obscured from sight in cities, as if to say ‘we’ve mastered even the stars, look at all we have done!’

It was 1948 and I’d come from Europe to California after the war with a group of guys I met after my return from the Ost Front. They were a bunch of guys who couldn’t readapt to society, some had seen too much, they were haunted by the deaths of their friends, by the killing they’d done. They would wake in the middle of the night in pools of sweat gasping for air and would stare listlessly in their waking hours at the shades and phantoms only they could see, their own personal hells only others who had seen so much death could relate to; a manic numbness, a shivering of the grey matter at high frequency, an immersion into the gory underpinnings of reality.  Others were addicted to excitement; the war had turned them into adrenaline junkies and when their lives weren’t somehow threatened or in danger they grew morose and even depressed. It’s how we all came to ride motorcycles; you were either running from the memories or chasing the thrill that lingers close to death. It’s an acquired taste but once you’re hooked nothing else even comes close. It was the autumn of 1948, we were roaring down out of the mountains toward San Bernardino, and we didn’t care what the world had to offer us; the new houses, shiny cars, and steady jobs. We were still at war only the enemy had changed, an enemy we hadn’t yet identified.

A monument to mankind the city stretched out in the valley below like a futuristic shimmering mirage, a harbinger of things to come, it was home to McDonald’s Famous Barbecue which that year changed its name to McDonald’s Famous Hamburger which today is McDonald’s. San Bernardino was a new name used by new people. For eight thousand years prior to the arrival of an amalgam of outcasts and unwanteds it was called Wa’aach in the language of the Tongva, in English The Valley of the Cupped Hand of God. There weren’t supposed to be any fluent speakers left but I knew of a few up in the hills, holdouts from another world, another place and time that was gasping its last breaths, engaged in a fight it never ask for or wanted. Like us they were ghosts of a world that abruptly vanished, caught in a holding pattern until the last one either died off or converted to the ways of the men in the valley below, join or die, join or become a barely visible blip on the radar of history, an insignificant blemish that had gone against the grain of so called progress and had to be ground down and disposed of in the dust heap of obscurity with others who were foolish enough to stand in the way of Manifest Destiny or God and Empire. It was Tyranny in the name of Freedom, a Freedom that my friends had fought and died for, in reality nothing more than the freedom for the men in charge, and by that I mean men, to shape the world in their own image and for their own benefit, the result of an escalation of imperial pissing contests that could leave only one victor, that could leave room for only one truth, one version of reality.


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