Life, Cubed

A day of living by the roll of the dice expands the idea of chance encounter -- exponentially

In the beginning was Chance, and Chance was with God, and Chance was God.

-- fromThe Book of the Die

A simple announcement for a Dicewalktugs at the threads of a long-forgotten notion -- "Nothing will be withheld from them that walk randomly" -- and, with it, comes memories and ruminations on the nature of chance. It was the early '90s and, having taken advantage of the first financial institution foolish enough to issue me a credit card, I had finally arrived in England. The young Brit who was waiting for me had at his disposal a cute little house, great jugs of scrumpy (a meat-fed hard cider made by north-country bootleggers), and two fine books: Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man. Both volumes were difficult to find at the time, the latter nearly impossible since it had been out of print for nearly 13 years, but they were not the reason I had gone to Brighton Beach. At least, I didn't think so at the time.

A lush parable repressed by Stalinist authorities for more than a quarter of a century, The Master and Margarita waltzes through issues of power, corruption, human frailty, mysticism, and love in the guise of a captivating woman, a vodka-drinking tomcat named Behemoth, and a very distraught Pontius Pilate. It is a beautiful, ennobling work and, at the time, it sparked in me a tiny notion I had long thought dead.

The Dice Manprovoked a much more immediate and noticeable result.

Presented as the fictional autobiography of Luke Rhinehart, a disillusioned New York psychiatrist who slowly turns over his life to the tumble of a common six-sided die, The Dice Man perfectly captures the desperation, disenchantment, apathy, and excess of the disco era that it ushered in. Rather than inciting the community it echoed, as The Master and Margaritahad done, The Dice Man inspired the book's most avid fans to adopt "diceliving" as their modus operandi. The sovereignty of chance proved quite irresistible. Offering satisfaction for both the disabused nihilist and the hopeful mystic, it simultaneously confirmed the belief that everything is exactly as it is meant to be, and that nothing really matters. And it dispensed with the pesky fetters of responsibility. I took to it at once.

I began, as "dicepeople" do, with small decisions -- should I have another pint? should I walk out to Stonehenge or look at it from the road? should I try a pickled egg or beat my head against the countertop? -- but slowly I became more daring.

One of the fundamental rules of diceliving is never to assign a number to anything that you are unwilling to do; this way, the purity of the roll is maintained, and you are not tempted to start making decisions after the die has been cast. So, when faced with three life-altering paths -- return to the States, travel to Thailand with the Brit (whose intentions were becoming highly suspect), or settle down to a small cottage and big family as per the Brit's drunken request -- the last was immediately eliminated as an option, and the other two became particles of chaos, spinning on the edge of fate and caprice. The die landed on four, and I flew home, two tiny dice tucked in the breast pocket of my coat.

In the States, I once again faced the workaday world (sans high school diploma and burdened by four years of catering experience at a deli). I prepared banquet trays, perused the want ads, and consulted the dice, which eventually led me to interview for two nonpaying internships -- one at an affordable-housing advocacy project, the other at a local weekly newspaper. When I was offered both, I rolled again ....


Six little white dots and many years later, I am standing in the dimly lit Lab with The Dice Manprayer trickling through my brain:

Great Godblob Die ...

Awaken me this morn ...

Quicken my dead life ...

With thy plastic breath ....

The Dicewalk, I come to find, is part of a closing ceremony for "War Toys," an exhibit of kinetic sound sculptures created by Larnie Fox. The three large pieces -- constructed from bamboo, chicken bones, feathers, string, motion detectors, contact mikes, and bits of industrial detritus -- are decidedly un-dice-like; instead, they reflect their namesakes, Airliner, Sub, and Crow, and conjure a number of post-apocalyptic science-fiction movies in which the lone survivors must rebuild technology from items at hand. As I peer inside the bamboo skeleton of Airliner, which hangs from the ceiling with a 30-foot wingspan, a light sputters to life and a dark adagio of sound spreads out from the speakers; a beaker of water burbles between a small motor and a heat lamp; a tiny brass bell jerks spasmodically inside a clear plastic bowl; a small electric fan spins along taut lengths of string; a nail dangling from a tether swings in the breeze; and a paper mallet twitches against a piece of metal. As I walk around the sculpture, the music swells from adagio to andante, chimes, gurgles, drumbeats, strings, and sighs joining the sinuous soundscape. The Crow springs into life behind me, its great wings flapping and a pine cone swinging against the spokes of a spinning bicycle tire; the Sub begins to whirl and glow. Andante to allegro. I can't possibly catch sight of all the tiny mechanisms, so I freeze. The lights fade, the music recedes, the motors wind down, until there's nothing to hold me but the pale glow of the bamboo forms. It's stark and beautiful.

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