Going to Pasaquan
Some thirty years ago, Jonathan Williams sent me a copy of Saint EOM in the Land of Pasaquan. It was an amazing book that was filled with radiant photographs of a fantastic place in south Georgia that resembled a southern Land of Oz. Towering giant figures guarded the entrance to a walled kingdom filled with sleeping pythons, pagodas, watch-towers and meditation rooms filled with murals of exotic figures. The Lord of this magic land was Saint EOM, a man dressed in flowing robes and a turban (and accompanied by two guard dogs with the ability to smell “bad vibes”). Saint EOM welcomed visitors to come inside for tea, fortune-telling and an apocalyptic message about a world betrayed by greed. I wanted to go.
It didn’t happen, of course. Life got in the way and instead of making my pilgrimage to south Georgia, I told stories, taught school and worried about my mounting debts. Occasionally, news arrived. Pasaquan was in trouble and there was talk of demolishing it. Luckily, it was rescued by a dozen foundations that established a preservation fund. Then, in 1986, Saint EOM, who was a man named Eddie Owens Martin, committed suicide. He was in failing health, suffered from dark depressions and was beginning to have serious doubts about his ability to change the world. There was also messages regarding the decline of Pasaquan. Time, freezing rains and the south Georgia sun was taking its toll, as concrete walls cracked and watchful gods faded. If I was going to Pasaquan, I had better hurry.
So, I talked two friends (Michael, the bookseller and Brent, the poet) into making a foolish journey to Pasaquan. It was not a good time, but then, it never is. My health is not good and when I attempted to get a prescription for heart medication, my doctor whisked me off to the emergency ward where I was told I needed to be “monitored” for a few days. Suddenly, I was in a hospital room, connected to a host of beeping machines and drips. I was told that my heart appeared to be damaged and I needed a few days of observations.
I must reluctantly admit that I have become what the world dreads: a willful and stubborn old guy who refuses tho cooperate with people who want to help him. “No way,” I told a half dozen attendants. “I am going to Pasaquan.” There was much whispering in the hall, but finally, I got my way. I was required to sign some kind of legal document that said that the hospital was not at fault if I dropped dead on the way to Pasawuan. So, I went home and packed a single bag. Michael, the bookseller, told me that he had talked to someone at Pasaquan who said that paradise was closed to the public; however, we would be allowed a solitary tour. Thanks to the preservation people, the entire place is scheduled for a million dollar facelift. When it reopens, it will be an exact restoration of the world that Saint EOM created.
So we went - the bookseller, the poet and a nice fellow named Justin who takes marvelous photographs. We endured four hours of Interstate traffic relieved only by a Cracker Barrel stop and arrived in Buena Vista, a remote little town surrounded by kudzu-choked pine thickets and bathed in the aroma of wisteria and the local Tyson’s chicken plant. We found Pasaquan six miles away, dozing under the Georgia sun.
It was exactly as I thought it would be. No surprises and no disappointments. The entire place seemed to be gradually vanishing, as Pasaquan’s radiant colors became more muted each day. The imposing statuary was cracking, surrounded by fragments of Sherwin-Williams coated concrete. We were assured that all would be as it once was, and indeed, restoration had begun on one of the wall murals. The work was reassuring ... as though Pasaquan was receiving a blood transfusion and its former healthy glow was already returning. I could only hope that at some point perhaps, we would hear Saint EOM’s war shout and he would emerge from his meditation chamber to welcome us the place where “the past and future converge.” (According to Saint EOM, that is the meaning of the word “Pasaquan.”)
I confess that I was not a good traveling companion, and it speaks well of the character of my companions that they did not cast me out on a remote Georgia road and leave me to find my own way home. Yes, I was sullen and spiteful when I was not allowed to participate in the conversation on the way home. So while my companions rattled on about their adventures: fights, concerts, artistic achievements, I was reduced to removing my cochlear implant and dozing fitfully in the back seat where I finally listened to the council of Eddie Owens Martin, the old trash-talking drag queen from New York. He cut the cards and smiled at me. “It is going to be alright, you old fool. Stop fretting. Take a nap. Drink a beer. Life is wonderful if you don’t expect too much.”
After several weeks passed following the trip to Pasaquan, I had a disturbing thought. When the renovations are complete and the public is invited to return, I am sure the visitors will be amazed by the awesome diversity of Pasaquan. All of those gods, pythons and pagodas glowing in technicolor! Ah, but there is one vital part of Eddie’s fortress against the greedy world that cannot be restored, and that is Saint EOM himself. I am sure that visitors will enjoy the wonder and magic of the place, but if Pasaquan is to truly be resurrected, it needs Saint EOM. Let us hope that ther preservation foundation will realize this and employ an actor ... one that is old and eccentric, but willing to don Saint EOM’s exotic turbans and flowing robes. Give him two fierce dogs (Alsacians) and let him patrol his paradise, invite his visitors to tea, tells fortunes, rant against the corrupt world. Only then can Pasaquan be resurrected. Come to think of it, I could probably do it myself.