How Paul Laffoley’s Leg Almost Became An Exhibit in Joe Coleman’s Museum of Human Oddities
- June 21, 2016
by Joan d’Arc
In January of 2001, I realized my move to the District of Columbia was an error, and began to make plans to return to Providence, which had been my home for ten years and was the place where I had co-founded Newspeak bookstore and Paranoia magazine. One of the projects on the back burner while I was in DC (and still is) was a book with the working title: Tall Tales of Synchronicity.
Tall Tales was to be a collection of essays by various people on the subject of synchronistic events from the perspective of the individual: the only observer who can possibly add meaning to a set of circumstances. The reason that synchronistic tales might be “tall” or unbelievable is that any string of synchronicities – a linear collection of meaningful coincidences – is only noticed by an observer who has added their own meaning to these events. The observer chooses personal meaning out of a background of potential meaning, thereby creating a construct that is real enough to them. Yet, such a construct is bound to be a “tall tale” to the listener of the story.
Boston visionary artist Paul Laffoley was one of the people who had agreed to write his story, and at the time of this writing continues to be the only one who has started writing his tall tale. I first met Paul when a Boston friend commissioned him to have an art show in my Providence bookstore, Newspeak. Paul’s work in lucid dreaming was the thing that most captured my attention. Being a lucid dreamer myself, I stayed in contact with him regarding the subject. Paul taught me much about lucid dreams, but most importantly, first, don’t be afraid to “open the door” because the knock on the door symbolizes the passing of a message, and second, the dreamer must be sure to bring back the message from the dream world.
In late February, I called Paul and told him I had gotten a job in Boston and would come by his studio in March. Paul told me he had an art show called Portaling at the Kent Gallery in New York beginning on March 10, and would be there one week. He fully expected to be back at the end of that week.
As the reception invitation for the Portaling exhibit explained, “As a process, portaling is a feeling – knowledge obtained by going in or out of a portal. In architectural terms, portaling is the issue of how physical entities are designed to announce what to expect inside. From a position of total world-culture, portaling consists of the experience of exchanging one world-view for another. On the completely personal level, one may discover oneself portaling from one insight to the next with or without ever having the urge to report it.” I had no idea at this time the magnitude of the portal I was about to enter.
Beginning in the third week of March, I began trying to contact Paul by telephone. Strangely his voice mail, which had always picked up before, no longer picked up. I went to his studio and nobody in the building had seen him in a couple of weeks. They said he went to New York and never came back. The mail continued to pile up at his door.
I then recalled a strange portent, a dream I had had during the first week of March while tossing and turning on my lumpy futon in DC. I dreamt I saw a tornado in the distance, an ominous funnel twirling toward me. I looked around and saw I was in the middle of nowhere. There was no shelter in sight. The tornado whirled around me. Once in the middle of the funnel it was quiet. The dream, which had been in black and white, turned to color. My legs began to glow bright yellow. I began to sob hysterically that my legs were burning.
I had a dreadful feeling that something had happened to Paul; and it was something to do with his legs. I wondered if he had been hit by a car in New York. I called the Kent Gallery and discovered that Paul had fallen from a ladder while installing his Portaling exhibit in the gallery, and had broken both of his legs.
Shortly thereafter I received an e-mail telling me that Paul was recuperating at a nursing center in the South End of Boston. It was only a few blocks from where I worked, so I went to see him. He told me the story of his fateful calamity, which had occurred March 9, the evening before the opening of his Portaling exhibit. While climbing a 20-ft. ladder to go to sleep in the loft, the ladder, perched against the wall, had started to slide down the wall. Paul was standing practically on the top rung. He slid down the wall with the ladder.
On his way down to meet the floor, Paul told me, time went slo-mo. On his way down to meet the floor, Paul told me, he had a conversation with himself, wherein he decided which body part was more dispensable, given that something was about to break. On his way down to meet the floor, Paul told me, he decided that as an artist he could not afford to break his arms. He realized he had to land on his feet. On his way down to meet the floor, Paul told me, he had a conversation with his feet. He said there was an implicit agreement made: “you save me, I’ll save you.”
Paul spent summer and autumn in a serious commitment to this agreement. One leg was healing well, the other wasn’t. While in the nursing center, the right leg became treacherously infected into the bone. He was transferred to Beth Israel. One doctor there, whom I met one night while visiting, was a “sniffer.” He would come into the room and sniff, and say, “yes, it’s still infected, I can smell it.”
After the doctor left, Paul indicated he was some type of Hyena. That would explain the strange comment. I asked about the doctor’s suit, and Paul guessed he was probably on his way to a card game. That would explain the suit. From what I could tell, Paul was in full charge of his senses. And he figured out that what the Hyena wanted was his leg. He was drooling over it. That much was obvious. And it got worse. Way worse. He fought them off tooth and nail. Paul insisted before each surgery that he wanted to “wake up and see toes.”
Through all of this, Paul wore the grin of a Cheshire cat. Paul was born on August 14, 1940 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His birth sign is Leo; rising sign Virgo. His horoscope for March 9, 2001, Paul told me, was a rare conjunction of Mars and Pluto. Paul insisted: “Pluto rules the feet.” After serious reflection on the matter, Paul concluded he was destined to break a leg on this day. How it broke would not matter. Perhaps demons had invaded the ladder.
During one surgery to try to save his leg, Paul was wheeled out of surgery as high as a kite on morphine. He insisted there was a demon in his leg, and requested four specialists: a priest, a rabbi, an agnostic and a shrink. He wanted them positioned as follows: “The priest will be on my left, the rabbi on my right, the rational side. The psychiatrist will be at my head, and the agnostic at my feet.” He gave explicit directions: “When the demon comes out of my leg, I want the agnostic to capture it.”
“Right. The demon will try to run toward the agnostic,” he explained to the medical team. “The agnostic should be prepared to catch it.” The hospital staff conceded partly to his demands. They called in a psychiatrist.
“Mr. Laffoley, do you know what day it is, what year it is?”
“Yes, it’s April 5, 2001.”
“Who is the President of the United States?”
“George Dubya Bush.”
“Do you think all the personnel in the hospital hate you?”
“No, I don’t know them all.”
“Mr. Laffoley, do you literally believe there is a demon in your leg?”
“Right. It keeps infecting my leg.”
Paul clarified to the shrink: “I’m assuming you’re listening for symptoms and not simply following my dialogue from point A to point B.”
Dr.: “Yes, you assume correct.”
The doctors at Beth Israel didn’t appreciate Paul’s New York shtick. They daily sent in a pair of shrinks, who broke new ground in psychiatric nomenclature (that’s ‘shrink rap’) when they determined in their report that Paul was an “encapsulated psychotic.” It didn’t help that he was reading a copy of Paranoia magazine and he told them it was his “manual.” The shrinks had not realized that paranoids had been able to achieve such a profound encasing of their disease by exchanging paranoid manifestos regularly. They insisted on borrowing the manual. Paul grinned like a Cheshire cat.
Paul spent the summer back in New York City after deciding these doctors did not want to even try to save his leg. The doctors in New York inserted an anti-bacterial agent into the tibia and he spent a couple months recuperating. He returned to his Boston studio in September. He found a doctor he liked and trusted. He worked on new paintings and an article for Juxtapoz. He began work on a new book on physically alive architecture.
The Absurdity of Absurdism
Absurdism arises in a spiritual vacuum, as it must. Only there does it make sense and is it necessary. Jean Paul Sartre was struck by the absurdity of nature – the fact that man’s consciousness against the backdrop of the dumb brute fact of nature sticks out like a sore thumb. In comparison to the brute thereness of the rock, the tree, the sky, man’s consciousness is excessive – it’s unnecessary, it’s a bald-faced absurdity.
Yet, we accepted his argument that nature was a brute fact in contrast to consciousness; that nature had no consciousness, no animation, no meaning in and of itself. How did we let this mistake slip by? We were out of touch with the teachings of ancient animists. Sartre was wrong. This is the pitfall of existentialism, which can only bring us to the brink of the suicidal void: to the emptiness and weariness of living.
I realized I made some philosophical errors in my youth. I had been an absurdist. Now I found absurdism absurd. I was comin Ôround the mountain. I had portaled into a new worldview. I came to see that everything is alive with thinking awareness. I realized something that all magicians know: that thought, as the tiniest of atomic structures, is a precursor to the realization of matter in the material world. Paul’s artwork exemplified this simple truth. One of the pieces he created, called Marquette for a Thought Form, was shaped sort of like a thought balloon in a cartoon illustration; in a lecture Paul said “it looks like something you could take to the beach.”
In their pioneering Theosophist work, Thought-forms, Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater wrote that thoughts are forms in mental matter; radiating vibrations created by the energy of the mind. Besant and Leadbeater analyzed the qualities of human thought-forms, which signify their meaning in terms of their color, shape and form. They believed that such thought waves are capable of affecting the thought of others since they cause similar types of thoughts as those of the sender. Besant and Leadbeater wrote the following regarding thought-forms:
“Each man travels through space enclosed within a case of his own building, surrounded by a mass of the forms created by his habitual thoughts. Through this medium he looks out upon the world and naturally sees everything tinged with its predominant colors, and all rates of vibration which reach him from without are more or less modified by its rate.” This is what is meant when you say that another person’s vibes are “on my wavelength.”
Dreams as Messages of Import
Around Easter time, when Paul was in the hospital in Boston, we spoke on the phone about his leg. He was concerned that they really wanted to take it due to the infection. That night I tossed and turned a long time unable to get to sleep. I wondered if there was anything I could do for him. I remembered a powerful dream I had had around the time I first met Paul. It was a rare dream that carried a message of great import. Since this dream has great bearing on this story, let me switch to the timeline of that dream before I continue.
In this dream, I was in a mall of some sort. I was watching what could be described as a doll show or marionette show. Dolls with big heads were dancing on a stage and their teeth were clacking up and down in a bizarre fashion. Suddenly a menacing wind swept through the mall like a cyclone. Windows began to smash, sending glass and other debris airborne. I looked around and saw that everything around me was being swept upward and sucked up into the vents and ductwork in the ceiling. There was no escaping the suction.
I then found myself situated at the bottom of a duct or tube about waist size. Looking up into it, I thought to myself, ‘I won’t be able to fit through that’; but suddenly my head popped out of the other end. Again, I found myself staring up at the bottom of another even smaller tube, wondering how I was going to fit through it. Again, I appeared at the other end of it without knowing how I had traversed the tube. After a journey of risings through smaller and smaller tubes, I came to a very narrow tube which was situated way over my head, and which had a white cord hanging out of it. Somehow I knew all I had to do was to touch the white cord. I was suddenly at the other end of it. I climbed up into a large white room. I had entered a portal. Knowledge obtained here would change my life.
In the White Room
I stood up in the white room and looked around. In front of me a waterway coursed toward me, and broke off into two canals curving around, one to my right and one to my left. Each of the canals circled around and coursed back the same way from which they had come, in a direction winding away from me. In these two canals sat a long train of connected white pods, which looked very much like little half eggs. In each half egg sat a person. They were stuck in a traffic jam. Nothing was moving. There seemed to be nobody in charge. The overall feeling was of some sort of waiting room. Suddenly to my right a man stood up in his egg and began to shout angrily, “who’s in charge here?” He kept demanding to speak to someone. He demanded an explanation. He wanted to know the meaning behind this “joke.”
Upon awakening I knew I needed help interpreting this dream. My friends said the symbolism was very obvious. The mall and the chaos that took place in the mall signified an accident of some sort where people died. The tubes signified the ascent of souls to the afterworld. Even the ‘white cord’, unbeknownst to me, was a well-known symbol of otherworld contact. Yet, this was more than just a dream about death. It was also a dream about rebirth or reincarnation. Even the two canals, which winded down and curved around, clearly symbolized the womb and the birth process. The eggs, with people sitting in them quietly waiting, were souls awaiting reassignment into bodies.
But who was the man off to my right shouting angrily, wanting to know ‘who’s in charge here’ and ‘is this some kind of joke’? This was the absurdist part of my personality: doubter, skeptic, materialist. The separation of this part of my persona into another identity served to contrast this vision of the infinity of life with the short-sightedness of the absurdist materialist view. I had portaled into a new worldview without the need to report it. I felt embarrassed for this loudmouth who was clearly unable to understand the true existential enormity of what he was seeing. And he was me.
The Living Klein Bottle House of Paul
To return now to the story, around Easter time Paul’s fear of losing his leg through infection became a prime focus. During a discussion with him on the phone, it occurred to me that I could incorporate the symbolism of the egg as a ‘ride through time’ and use it as a travel device in a lucid dream. I hatched a cockamamie plan that would utilize the scientology precept of the timeline. Paul’s hatred of scientology was evident when I suggested it, but he went along with it. Let’s just say he was a captive audience.
I assured him I was not a scientologist and had never been. I had just done quite a bit of reading. I explained that according to scientological precepts, the timeline of any entity crosses the timeline of any other entity – demon or otherwise – at the point at which they originally came into contact. This moment in time always exists and can be revisited.
One of the practices of an advanced level scientologist – and of a trained ‘remote viewer’ as well – begins with the attempt to locate the timeline of an entity – in some cases a demon or some type of negative entity. With regard to sickness or disease, the belief is essentially that an entity can take on the persona of a microbe, could ‘become’ a bacterium or any microscopic entity, and could invade a person’s body. The scientologist as thetan – immortal soul traveler – would then enter that entity’s being via its timeline and give it the two rights of a thetan, which concerns the free will of any entity in the universe.
The first right of a thetan is the right to play a game. The second right of a thetan is the right to leave a game. The scientologist as thetan would essentially, via telepathy, interrogate and brief the subject on free will and the two rights of a thetan. He or she would ask the entity why in the world it was attached to this persona and this behavior when there are obviously more fun things to do in a free will universe. It is said that once the entity is informed of the concept of free will, it will usually opt to leave the negative game of its own accord. I told Paul about the plan.
So one night, with this specific intent in mind, I told myself over and over that upon falling to sleep I would be lucid, and I would be contained in an egg. I would then travel to the timeline of the demon that Paul was insisting had entered his leg. I would give it the two rights, and at Paul’s insistence, maybe a couple of lefts for good measure.
To my utter surprise, I fell asleep and found myself inside some type of enclosure. I never saw the enclosure but I knew I was inside some type of ride, for several reasons; first, because I could only see through a fairly limited ‘window’ area in front of me. The second odd thing about the enclosure was that I could only move straight in a forward or backward movement, not side to side. The third peculiarity about the enclosure was that it “wobbled” slightly when it moved. At one moment, I caught a reflection of something white off to my right that may have been a wing or some type of protrusion.
Suddenly I was in a house or apartment. I knew I had to go into each room to see if I could locate any person or entity. I entered each room in a frontward ‘wobbly’ fashion and then receded from each room in a backward ‘wobbly’ fashion. I could not turn around. It was as though I was stuck on a track. The “egg” had no levers or knobs that I was aware of. I moved specifically via intent, which is how all dreamers move.
Finally, I heard the sound of water coming from one room, which appeared to be a bathroom. I entered the bathroom and there was steam coming from the shower. I approached the shower and a person opened the curtain. It was a curly-haired adolescent or teenage boy. He had a pipe in his mouth from which soap bubbles were rising upward into the air. He smiled at me. I felt that the message was that Paul’s house was clean. I came back and gave Paul this message.
The Floating Bubble
I didn’t see Paul in the summer of 2001 because he was in the hospital in New York. But I did have an interesting lucid dream in which I dreamt that Paul and his entire hospital room was enclosed in a gigantic iridescent bubble floating on top of a body of water. With my face pressed up against the bubble, I was trying to understand what he was saying, but I couldn’t hear him. Beside him in a smaller chair sat his visitor: a miniature man who looked just like him!
Paul’s “mini-me” – his psyche – was frantically translating his words via some sort of sign language or hand signals. I got the message that Paul was beginning to get very frustrated in his attempts to communicate to the medical profession. I also got the message that Paul, confined to a hospital room, was unable to do his artwork, which was in effect his way of communicating his personal universe of logic and emotion. Therefore he could not speak and could not be heard.
Although outwardly Paul was smiling and putting on a brave front, this was not an easy time for him. This was the most difficult trial of his life. Paul had told me while in the hospital that the meaning of this trial would eventually come to fore in his paintings. And these he had plenty of time to think about.
The World Trade Center Attacks
Meanwhile, after the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, I began wondering if Paul was back from New York. A lucid dream answered my question. In the dream, Paul asked me to deliver a message to Paul! (To deliver a message to himself?) He handed me an envelope. As I touched the envelope, I knew this communication served the same purpose as a door. I tried to grasp the meaning of the words portaling in my head as I woke from the dream; something like “bird can’t fly there” or “no fly zone.”
I immediately realized Paul was back at his studio and was trying to contact me. Paul came out of the elevator and greeted me on the landing with his trusty walker. I reported the dream message right away. I followed him into his studio and he sat down at a drawing he had been working on. It was the skyline of Manhattan. But in the place of the now missing World Trade Center, Paul had performed cosmetic dentistry, superimposing on New York’s contorted grimace the colossal gleaming white enamel tooth of the fantastic Gaud’ building.
The Grand Hotel, I learned, was originally commissioned in 1905 to be built on the same land as the World Trade Center buildings, but the architect – Basque-born Antoni Gaudi (perhaps where we get the term ‘gaudy’) – was double-crossed by an American entrepreneur. The magnificent Venusian-looking tower, which consisted of several soft-nosed bullet forms topped by a spiked spherical observatory, was never built. However, if it had been built, Paul explained, it surely would have withstood a strike by airplanes. The structure of Gaudi’s creation was as sturdy as a mountain. No “bird” could have flown into the Gaudi air space. Paul wondered if Gaudi had put a curse on the land.
Paul explained that he had worked on the WTC buildings as a student architect, and he knew why the buildings had “pancaked” the way they did. He said the X-bracings on the exterior of the building were bolted, not fused. The bolts had given way. He described the towers as two white elephants – “file cabinets” which had been built in defiance of normal building codes. He had begun work on a proposal to build Gaudi’s cathedral as a memorial on that spot, which was the only way to turn the curse around. He began writing up the article for Paranoia. He grinned like a Cheshire cat.
In late December, Paul’s doctor discovered that two out of three arteries going into Paul’s right foot were completely demolished. He advised Paul that if they didn’t amputate the leg soon below the knee, the infection could spread, causing him to lose more of the leg, or it could travel into his body and kill him. The amputation took place during Christmas week, and, at Paul’s insistence, he spent New Year’s Eve back in his studio. He had had enough of hospitals.
Paul kept up the good fight for ten months. He finally decided he just wanted to get back to work with no limitations. He had had enough of total captivity. At one time, artist Joe Coleman had asked Paul if he could have his leg for his museum of human oddities (http://www.funcitytattoo.com/history/coleman/), but unfortunately, Coleman’s museum will not have Paul’s leg. Paul’s wish is to keep it close to him, like the main character in his favorite underground horror classic, Basket Case.
Paul still has the grin of a Cheshire cat. He is now working with some Hollywood prop specialists to make him a prosthetic lion’s foot in honor of his birth sign, Leo. His doctors think he’s mad. They think he shouldn’t be smiling in this situation, and they wish to make him “better” presumably by making him unhappy. They still can’t seem to locate the right label to define his behavior. Neither can I. Is he really an encapsulated psychotic? Has his life become inseparable from his futuristic “theater of utopia”? Has he finally and profoundly broken the Kitsch Barrier? Or is he just a man with a tall tale to tell?
Paul Laffoley may be reached at Boston Visionary Cell, 36 Bromfield Street, Suite 200, Boston, MA 02110.
See some of Paul’s artwork and bibliography at www.kentgallery.com, and more info at: www.dilettantepress.com.
Read Paul’s “Disco Volante” at http://www.cybercom.net/~gsullivan/bvc/disco_volante.com. See also “Gaudi Central” at http://www.op.net/~jmeltzer/gaudi.html; see also the March, 2002 issue of the art magazine Juxtapoz, which features Paul’s article and work on this subject.