Joymax was an experiment, an Adonis, a demigod.
Eugene, Joymax’s father, was wealthy, so Joymax, Eugene’s only child, was wealthy. And Eugene’s wealth he consecrated to the perfection of his son, as a herald of human perfections to come. Joymax would be raised like John Stuart Mill and Montaigne—by a father’s idée fixe: “the perfected organic unity of life,” Eugene called it. Eugene also called this unity of life, Le Palais Idéal or “The Ideal Palace” (a term and dream he took from Ferdinand Cheval). Eugene pushed young Joymax to attain “The Paradisiacal Eye,” the eye that sees this world only as a paradise, only joyously.
In addition to the more usual forms of self-enhancement, such as exercise and healthy diet, Eugene’s perfectionism also took eccentric forms: one ought to sit in the waves at least once a week for two hours; one ought to hover over the toilet while urinating or defecating, as it is always “an opportunity” to strengthen one’s squat; one ought to drink the Bird-of-Paradise flower as a tea every month, steeping its orange sepals and purplish-blue petals for seven minutes exactly; one ought to read Nietzsche every week.
But what if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other—that whoever wanted to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”?
So wrote Nietzsche in The Gay Science, and so agreed Eugene. Paradise, Eugene pointed out in the Book of Genesis, is guarded by flaming swords—by a burning, piercing, painful gate. “So God drove out the man,” Eugene would recite to Joymax, “and God placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Dante, he often added, finds paradise down through the inferno.
This was Joymax’s childhood and young adulthood—and Joymax loved it.
Joymax loved his beauty, his strength, his intellect, and his sunshine, which flooded the white decks and outdoor terraces of his father’s seaside mansion in La Jolla, “The Jewel.”
Eugene died from bone cancer on a Wednesday. Young Joymax had no “Paradisiacal Eye” for those last months, those bone-pains metastasizing inside his father, pains that need the most morphine, and even then—
It is raw to see others die. It is raw to die. It is raw to love and die. Joymax recalled a line by the Roman playwright Vitus Marinus: Human, what say you to the nightmare of a perfect god?
Why that line, Joymax wondered.
Hodie aperuit nobis clausa porta
It was a Wednesday, one year and seven months after his father’s death, when Joymax swam out from La Jolla Cove. With a whisper of Latin—Hodie aperuit nobis clausa porta, “Today was opened unto us a closed gate”—our beautiful Joymax pushed out alone, into green-blue waves.
Approximately 2,600 miles away lapped clear waves on Honolulu’s shores. Those shores, and no others, would welcome Joymax to land again; Joymax had sworn this to himself.
The year and seven months before had meant to Joymax only preparation for his solitary swim, and for drowning, if it come; and for the ugly shredding and bleeding-out of a shark attack, if it come; and for shock and stroke, if it come.
A wetsuit would be all his protection against 2,600 miles of the cold Pacific. A harness strapped to his torso would tug behind him a wide raft with his supplies: water, dried fruits, Bird-of-Paradise tea, and other staples for raw surviving.
After the 500th mile, Joymax began to talk to the water; his mouth would fill with water, and the water would hum and bubble with his words.
“Do you hear my voice, you deep wilderness?”
After the 1000th mile, Joymax began to sing to the water; his mouth would fill with water, and the water would dance and whirl with his singing.
“We sing to each other, we depths.”
Joymax sang to the ocean a song of jubilee.
“I am a ship,” he sang, feeling the frigid water as flaming swords. “My passengers, the hopes of those bodies now rotted down, their hopes in the body transfigured, lifted up, saved from destruction, crowned.”
After the 2000th mile of his arduous swim, Joymax began to hover over the water.
“I am the aloha spirit,” he said to the face of the waters.
“Perfect God,” replied the waters, “what say you? What shall we become?”
“Perfect,” said the Joy-Lord.
Jonathan van Belle is a bookseller at Powell’s. He’s the author of three books, including the pre-posthumously published Charter Party Companion to Private Holidays (all available in the most spider-infested kudzu undergrowth of Amazon). At the moment, Jonathan is working to build a philosophical community in Portland, with the aim of establishing a permanent residence for the Portland Philosophy Museum.