Surround the Stranger

Uncomfortably Numb
The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For

Surround the Stranger

Just a wild guess, but I’m thinking you’ve begun to become somewhat sensitized to the word surround. I’m still simply amazed by the definition of the word:

1. To extend on all sides of simultaneously; encircle; ring. 2. To enclose or confine on all sides so as to bar escape or outside communication.

On the evening of May 4, 1988, I was deep into the mystery of our surroundings, and very sensitized to that word/concept. Books and notes were piled atop my desk, and my spinning mind was drenched with fear because the story had taken a very sudden, disturbing turn. And from this frightened perspective, something completely unexpected rocked my world.

For months I’d been consumed with this story. An utterly inconceivable string of “coincidences” had enabled me to string together seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive interpretation of our situation. My conclusions were obviously incomplete, and probably flawed in many respects, but the evidence was so compelling…

Something very strange was going on. Whatever it was, it continued to unfold before my eyes. All the while, music kept me company.

From the mid-sixties, when I first fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, music had been my nearly-constant companion. It wasn’t just the music that rocked me, it was the message as well. I considered myself a lyrical aficionado of sorts. I tried to listen to the words. I tried to uncover the meanings hidden within the lyrics. Lyrically speaking, I had a pretty high opinion of myself.

But at no time did I suspect that these lyrics had anything to do with the mystery I’d stumbled upon. Then everything changed.

I dutifully recorded the time and date for my records, but for once, there wasn’t a chance that I’d forget this ever happened. I spent the rest of that night and most of the next morning in a stupor, listening to songs I’d previously thought I understood. Numb from the experience, I switched the stereo off after The Call’s song, I Still Believe, and went for a long walk along Mission Bay, trying to make sense of this inexplicably strange turn of events.

All the while, the music had been playing in the background, and I never suspected, I never even imagined that it was part of the story. And then, because I’d become so sensitized to the word “surround,” my whole world pivoted on the first three words of Satisfaction Guaranteed by The Firm:

History surrounds me

At the time, I didn’t have a tape deck hooked up to the stereo, so I didn’t get it recorded. Since then, I have. Here’s the last two verses of that song:

Sitting in the gutter / With my head wrapped in my hands
I’ve been drinking all night / And I just can’t stand the pain
It took an awful lot of trouble / Just to make me understand
Now it’s clear to me / But will it ever be the same?

Head up on the highway / Just as fast as I could go
I rode through the night / And half-way through the day
I had no direction / I didn’t even want to know where I was going
The only thing I knew / Was that I had to get away

Kind of strange lyrics for a song called Satisfaction Guaranteed, wouldn’t you say?

After that, the story really took off. In the next few months, song after song shed more light on the story. One particularly uplifting song was a single from the (then) soon-to-be-released Pat Benatar album entitled Wide Awake in Dreamland. As intriguing as that album title was, it was the single that kept creeping into my notes in conjunction with certain coincidences. The chorus of All Fired Up became an anthem of sorts in my struggle to understand:

Now I believe there comes a time
When everything just falls in line
We live and learn from our mistakes
The deepest cuts are healed by faith


Two last points about our strange surroundings…

On January 18, 1988, circumstances conspired to enable me to reach for the dictionary with a zeal that led me into the appendix for the first time in an attempt to fathom just who or what “Xenophanes of Colophon” was. When I combined the definitions in the appendix with those found in the “regular” part of the dictionary, I came up with “a stranger at the summit” (among other things). I still can’t think of that definition without an image rising in my mind.

For some reason, “a stranger at the summit” brings to mind the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill—the pyramid with the eye on top—the pyramid with the eye at the summit.

More recently, after watching Random Acts-The Movie a dozen times or so, I finally noticed what I’d inadvertently recorded at the end of the second edit. After that guy falls from the sky (my metaphoric take on the trauma of birth and/or the dawning of awareness), and just before Arnold in the Johnny-Cab, a voice from off-camera says:

Surround the stranger.

Surround the stranger. That about sums it up, doesn’t it? In a way, aren’t we all strangers of a sort, surrounded by this strange, strange land?


<<< A War of Words | Great Expectations >>>

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