In The Clouds

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“I wandered lonely as a cloud,” wrote Wordsworth, but as usual he was probably just reaching for the nearest rhyme. There is small reason to suspect that clouds get lonely, for they are hardly ever alone. If anything the average cloud is, like most of us, hurting for a little privacy — a quiet space where he can concentrate on personal growth, perfect his racquetball serve, learn to stop saying “yes” when he means “go to hell,” and work on that hard-hitting novel about the nasty but wacky inner world of advertising.

“Where do all these clouds come from?” you ask (not out loud, I hope, or people will shy away from you and you’ll be lonelier than any cloud ever was). A scientist will tell you clouds are merely water vapor suspended in the atmosphere. He will tell you that, and then look away in embarrassment, knowing he has told you nothing. He wishes to God he knew something about clouds, but he’s too busy tickling white rats with electrodes to find out anything.

The ancient Chinese believed that clouds were the breath of a sleeping dragon. Storm clouds resulted when the dragon had been smoking in bed, while chain lightning, typhoons and tornadoes meant that he had been awakened before he could get a full eight hours. Today, of course, these childish explanations have been discarded, and the modern Chinese are well aware that clouds are the product of wrong-thinking reactionaries conspiring to form a fascist hegemony with the imperialist war-mongering dogs of the West.

Next to Wilhelm Reich’s cloud theories, these Chinese ideas look pretty serious. Reich did most of his damage in his chosen field of psychiatry, but in his spare time he did more to cloud the cloud issue than any other man in history. He was convinced that clouds are not always clouds — that sometimes they are accumulations of deadly orgone energy sent by the saucer men to destroy us. What is orgone energy? When asked, Reich would only chuckle cryptically, “You wouldn’t want to sprinkle any on your breakfast cereal.” According to him it saps our strength and makes us talk and act like Don Knotts, and sometimes even buy bumper stickers that say “Fishermen Do It After Tying Up Their Loved Ones With High-Test Fish Line.”

Reich had an eye for spotting orgone clouds, though glasses later corrected it so he would see only a banana cream pie hovering safely out of reach. When he spied one (a cloud, not a pie) he’d attack it with a device of his own making called a cloud-buster, which looked like a menage a trois between a heating pipe, a Slinky toy and one of those tinfoil tuxedoes Liberace used to wear. Invariably, when fired upon, the cloud would always disperse or drift away, and the final score was always Humanity: 1, Saucer Men: 0.

If only all visionaries were as harmless.

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