"Do not lean on your own understanding." – Proverbs, 3:5.

"The truth has a certain ring to it." – Hemingway

John the Gin Guy and I are having a drink at the White Horse Tavern, "The Oldest Tavern in America"– our famous just-down-the-street-a-bit neighbor, founded way back when heliocentrism was still considered "foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture." Think about that for a minute. We've come a long way, baby.

John's the "gin guy" because he's helping my buddy JD launch his Tuck brand here in Newport. He's one of these jamocos who talks a mile a minute, about anything and everything, and is so, so interesting, so fabulous, almost bordering on the fantabulous. I tell him that if even half the things he says are true, or only a quarter, he's one of the most incredible in the truest sense of the word men I've ever met. 

I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but John's telling me about the three-masted schooner called Peacemaker that's in Newport right now. I told him I had seen it on a mooring when I sailed into the harbor on Angelita yesterday, a picture-perfect eight meter masterpiece that was the first American boat to ever win an Olympic medal (Gold, in 1932 in Los Angeles, Owen Churchill, skipper).

John's telling me that Peacemaker is owned by a quasi-religious cult called the "Twelve Tribes" and that he had just been given a tour by the leader, a white-beard Jesus type and his hippy-chick wife, both in flowing robes, who I remember I had just read about being arraigned in the Florence K. Murray Superior Court diagonally across Eisenhower Park from my house for some kind of marijuana possession bust. They were initially stopped by the police at the courthouse door that morning and denied entry until, after much indignation on their self-righteous part, and I’m sure shaking of disbelieving heads on the other, since most cops, at least the ones I’ve met don’t have much patience for imaginative clownery, or appreciation for dippy-trippy style points, or love of ersatz weaponry, where they were forced to leave their double-sided medieval battle-axes at the security desk. I’m not making this up. An old-school cop friend of mine once said to me no one ever got arrested for punching a hippy and I thought he was a dick for saying it. I kinda agree with him now.

But back to John. He told me that the boat has three captains, one who’s lived aboard for more than thirty years, and about the bloody beatings of disobedient children being par for the disciplinary course and the twisted justification sadism of these weird cultists. Not to mention the probably criminal underhanded confiscation of all new members’s private property. There were written scriptures and “church” doctrine espousing their hate for homosexuals-they should be killed is their belief–and the openly-admitted and aggressive persecution of blacks. But the ship is so picturesque–a magnificent 150-foot barquentine, restored lovingly and to almost perfection with ipe and mahogany that would make any joiner worth his salt’s eyes water. The craftsmanship is exquisite, the bright work silky reflection-smooth perfection. 

If I hadn’t heard John’s deadpan downer assessment tonight, I’d have thought that ship was a floating treasure of classic happiness and living, breathing maritime art. Instead it was demonic, or so John seemed to suggest, and the cognitive dissonance was almost unbearable, especially since the schooner’s silhouette against the hushed dusk yesterday was a giggly-euphoric indigo and mauve masterpiece.

John’s telling the bartender he wants Tuck to be a top shelf gin and not a rail bottle and it’s my third martini and I mention something about how when the White Horse was built, in 1638, the Copernican revolution hadn’t happened in America and the geocentric universe theory still prevailed, if any of the colonists ever really thought about which, or whether or not a universe could prevail.

But they must have, since a lot of them were religious, especially Roger Williams, who was so charismatic and persuasive a figure that the Indians wanted to give him Rhode Island. He insisted on paying, in the end. John then launched into a monologue about the special significance of Newport, religiously speaking–it’s a mecca for the pagans and satanists since a meteor fell in Narragansett Bay and those types believe in all kinds of astrological alignments and signs. Especially the Freemasons–they run the show here, and have since the founding of Newport John says. They used to meet in the room upstairs–it was the unofficial “statehouse” of Newport and even Rhode Island as a whole for more than a hundred years.

I can feel the couple sitting at the table right behind us starting to bend an ear. John turns around and points to the huge, well-worn hearth. That fireplace leads down into the tunnels of Newport, John says, that are supposedly there for the secret transport of slaves during the Civil War, as part of the underground railroad, to freedom. It makes for great history to be seen as virtuous, especially in righteous hindsight, but the truth is these tunnels were really dug by the Freemasons for their illicit transportation of liquor, guns, and even slaves–but into slavery, not freedom.

Really? I’ll interject some wicked funny levity here: I agree with Bill Burr when he talks about slavery. Back then you wouldn’t have gone out of your way one inch to help anybody–you’d be standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts every morning like your always do for your double-iced pumpkin latte, and pissed off that the fat guy in front of you took too long. Especially if he was black. Seriously, John’s telling me those tunnels were dug in the 1700s, way, way before the Civil War. 

The freemasons–haven’t you ever heard of them? They go back hundreds and hundreds of years–they’re everywhere. John says do you know how you identify one? Anyone who has a double letter in their last name is a Freemason. What? Yes, everyone, George Washington on down to the present day. Anyone with a double letter in their last name. But George Washington doesn’t. 

I’m trying to spell my name in my head to see if I’m one of them. Haven’t you ever heard of the Freemasons? I’ll show you, they’re all over the place and especially here in Newport. Come on. He grabs my arm and starts walking me towards the door. I said I had heard of them, of course, but I thought he said “fleemasons” because of the tunnels and the fact that I felt like the rush of the blood to my head as I stood up made me think I was leaving planet Earth. 

He marches me out the door and points to a sewer cover in the middle of Marlborough Street. See that? It’s the tunnel. A car stops to avoid running us over. We walk down to Charles Street and he points to another sewer cover. That’s the tunnel too. It heads diagonally down to Long Wharf where the ships used to dock. There’s a secret entrance on Dixon Street too, that runs into the Elms. I’ve seen that, I said–that’s where the coal cart on the little track shuttles it in from the street, so the flunkeys don’t have to carry or shovel the sooty mess into the mansion by hand. He looks at me like you’d look at an infant who hasn’t figured out yet that the feet he’s having such fun playing with are actually his own.  

We walk down Charles Street to the beautiful early Empire brick building that houses the dance studio on the second floor and Bar ‘Cino on the first overlooking Washington Square. He points to the cornerstone and it reads: I.O.O.F.1906. 

What does that mean? He says it stands for the International Order Of Freemasons, and this was the headquarters they built in 1906 after the White Horse Tavern became too small. He points to something above the awning. I squint carefully. What are you pointing at? Two fasces flank the facade. They’re an ancient symbol–decorative bundles of wheat fastened together to use as battle axe handles–we’re stronger bound together is the idea. Where do you think the fascists got their name? 

We head back to our barstools. But somewhere on the way my thoughts are cast back to the Renaissance Metro Cinema just off Saad Zhagoul in Alexandria, Egypt sometime in the summer of 1976. It may have been the slight scent of petrichor that I remembered from the soft, sudden rain that was falling outside the theatre the night as I walked home after seeing The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty. And now an earthy whiff outside Perro Salado, the Mexican cantina across the street, where the window boxes must have been watered that afternoon and I’m there again, fifteen years old, once more in a muddle of my confusion and delicious doubt as to what’s real and what isn’t real.

And relief too.

I finally figured out that at least according to the spelling of my last name I wasn’t a Freemason, but who did I know that was? Eddie Costello? I don’t believe it! I retune into John’s telling me about the meteor that landed in the bay and how the pagan rituals center around sacrificial rites and meteors are important because they’re signs sent by the gods, and the Jews were involved somehow, I can’t remember how exactly, and he then brought in the Jesuits–“Men for others”– I interjected and he didn’t even flinch or pause for a breath when I said that–they’re dirty secretive twink goons too. Or should that be: secretive dirty twink goons–I can never remember the adjective hierarchy order when I’m stringing a bunch together: quantity, quality, size shape, purpose or qualifier? Never mind.

Magnetite is magnetic, he continued, and has all these weird meanings for them–look it up, it’s the state rock of Rhode Island. It’s another name for lodestone, says the guy at the table in front of the fireplace, and it’s the most magnetic of all the naturally occurring mineral on Earth. It’s what they blue rifles with. His wife looks at him and says How the hell do you know that–you’ve never fired a gun in your life.

We order another drink. You’ve seen the tower up in Touro Park, the one that reminds everyone of Stonehenge and that no one can figure out who built it or when. Well, John says, it was the Freemasons centuries ago. It’s all part of their sun and earth rotation worship, moonsets and lunar standstills… and handstands and windowsills I chime in. I thought that was an old windmill?

The earnest reporter Joseph Frady, played by Warren Beatty, gets caught up in an assassination plot of a prominent U.S. Senator, and eventually connives to get into the Parallax Corporation, the macabre underbelly organization that’s orchestrating the downfall of the republic, and killing anyone in their way. Beatty finds out about them and wants to infiltrate–he cheats on the entrance exam so they think he’s a psychopath. He soon finds himself in the middle of the action, and on the wrong end of a gun. It’s a commentary on the JFK killing, implying a dark cabal of malevolence has infiltrated every aspect of American society, and this government intelligence organization is pulling all the strings of the politicians/puppets in power, and they literally erase any opposition. JFK was notoriously hostile to the CIA.

Upon reflection, with the wisdom and psychological distance I now have (ha!) I realize the two things that bothered me the most about that disturbing movie. One, the good guy lost. Not only lost, but was killed in such a treacherous way. And two, the bad guys won. And not only won, but shamelessly blamed the good guy for their own heinous crimes. And got away with it. The End.

I couldn’t believe it. And I’m not a Warren Beatty fan. This was my first exposure to true evil, and luckily I was able to dismiss the trauma, barely, as “It’s just a movie.” I mean up until then the only movies I had seen at the cinema were The Jungle Book, Bambi, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music. But obviously the sphinx-y specter of that black-ops murder has haunted me since, and has led me finally to a simple conclusion, especially after my own betrayal and dark-triad attempted-emasculation: the only real misfortune in life is to become corrupted. Everything else is trivial in comparison.

John notices I’m not paying attention to his monologue on magnetite. Don’t believe me? Think I’m making all this crazy shit up? Go to Queen Anne’s Square and you know the walkway up to the church? Um, yeah–are the Episcopalians in on the conspiracy too? Yes! These people, you have no idea says John, wild-eyed. Count up 22 paving stones from the sidewalk on Thames and then 12 paving stones over from the left hand side and do you know what you’ll see? The 23rd paving stone? I ask.

You think this is all funny? I’m serious. I have ta flashback to the same feeling I had while watching the scene when Beatty was trying to escape the supposed “good guy” assassin in the labyrinthian maze of the metal roof rafters, shot low and hand-held at an angle, with a short lens that exaggerated the spherical abberation. What is going on? What is really going on? I kept asking my drunk self as John and I said our goodbyes. I walked home more stupid and clueless than when I left a few hours earlier. What’s happened here; what’s happening here? What’s true and what’s kabuki?

I spent most of the night researching the freemasons and the cabal and the “name stealers” and the what’s that secretive society in England? No, not The Illuminati. Anyway, when I woke up, unwoke as ever the next afternoon, I couldn’t foghorn my way through the smear of myth and narrative and hellacious hangover. As I said before, if only half, or even one-millionth of what John had told me the night before was true, the tectonic plates in my mind shifted. And noticeably.

The few synapsis not firing in violent protest to go back to bed urged me to go to Queen Anne’s Square, and I couldn’t remember how many stones I needed to count over and under, or left or right. I was hunched over, inching my way up the pathway trying to remember the numbers–tourists and passersby gawked and gave the unshaven hunchback muttering along in the hot sun a wide berth, when I suddenly saw it. I snapped the above picture.

It’s there, alright. It’s definitely there–I retraced my steps and counted: 22 pavers up and 12 over. An oh-so subtle underground sign that the world is full of muted, immoral monsters–I felt like the old guy Silenus, drunk and slumping, resting his foot on a tiger. It’s a famous painting–by I forgot who. But is it magnetite? Don’t know, but let’s see if it’s magnetic at least. I thought of the axiom that it’s much easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled. I had to know.

The only thing I had on me that was metal was my signet ring, so I took it off and knelt down over the stone. I held it about an inch above and sure enough it pinged against it. I pulled it off and held it about two or three inches away and sure enough, a quick soft plink again.

Damn! I felt a slight but not unpleasant memory come to mind: “Precious." Wasn’t that the hobbit’s name for his ring? The earth is way down deep, dark. I plinked it again. And they’re out there. Dragons attracting innocents–hiding in plain sight their secrets from slayers and naysayers. And again. Dink. Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Deep and dark. Dink. Plink. Ping. Evil, coded, devilish, stealing, amazingly magnetic men and machinery poking their noses up from the bowels and sloughs we almost don’t even see.

When suddenly a little wisp of a woman in a blue Sunday dress with a dog that looked like a ewe walked by, and looked disdainfully down at me, genuflecting to some not obvious god. I glanced up at her. There was so much sky left overhead.