Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Back in my room, with Big Pharmakos still in the passenger’s seat and Large, Creeping Charlie at the wheel, I recline in bed with my socks sticking out from under the comforter. Then I get up, yawning and stretching, and get a mini bottle of vodka from the minibar. I settle back in bed and click on the TV with the remote that’s been laid out for me on the bedside table. I unscrew the cap of the bottle and look into it, like I might see my eye magnified down on the bottom if I look close enough. It smells like gasoline, and I remember that we’re still in the van, speeding away from the pasture that was under the caretaker’s care. I give my attention over to the TV, where a swimming competition is underway. It appears to be on the Baltic Sea coast, probably somewhere like Latvia. The coast is rocky and the sky is overcast and full of moisture. The swimmers are sleek and fit but not exactly graceful. They stumble on their feet like sea lions. On the shore is a bar and a few metal picnic tables. Everyone is loading up on booze before jumping in the water. I’m sitting at one of those tables with another person, my compatriot of sorts, and we’re buying vodka for any of the swimmers that want some. It’s the least we can do, we think. At first, we were caught up in a bad loop of bickering about money, but we’ve established a good rhythm of turn-taking in terms of who’s buying, and things are better between us now. A swimmer sits across from us, downs his portion, and departs to head toward the sea, another swimmer taking his place. We turn our heads to watch the edge of the water and the swimmers submerging themselves whenever the drinking at the table begins to bore us. The swimmers get in the water and from there begin to swim, and just keep swimming, out toward the horizon and then past it, far past it. Soon they’re dead and gone to us. They keep going, out into the open ocean, until they feel like drowning, and then they drown. No one ever comes back once they leave our picnic table and enter the sea. As far as I can tell, that’s the competition. The TV stays on this scene for a while, and then coughs up another.

From the midst of the meadow came the vehicle. I wasn’t quite done with my Fresca when it pulled up in front of me, but I put the bottle down, burying it in the soft dirt like a bulb. I watched it pull up with my eyes and forehead in a frozen and fixated state, and heard it idling, waves of gas and heat rippling out from its sides like the breath of a panting Savannah Creature after a long and incensed run. I felt myself yawning, and heard my name (“David Riiiiiiiiice!!!”) resounding in the distance, and, because my mouth was open so wide, I almost thought it might have been me calling out (and it might have been). A tinted window of the vehicle rolls down, and Big Pharmakos sticks his head out into the bright meadow air, gingerly maneuvering its girth through the window slit. “Hurry up!” he shouts. “The caretaker is calling you!” A moment of indecision here, where I feel two sides of me nailed to opposing barns and the rest stretched out into a clothesline, my organs hanging like newly-cleaned dirty underwear in the breeze. Will this caretaker take care of me? I hear myself wondering, while the other barn wonders, or thinks: “Big Pharmakos is your friend, probably, so best to go with him and get on the road while it’s still light.” So I climb into the backseat where a side door has been slid open, and now I’m in there. As we pull away, our momentum tears down one of the barns like a truck with a heavy chain coupled to its fender, and we drag splintering shards of wood through the wet and soft summer earth. My name continues to ring out in the distance, with the nurse’s clear and assertive Japanese emphasis. Big Pharmakos turns to me from the passenger’s seat, and I can see the back of Large, Creeping Charlie’s head from where he’s driving, a map spread taut over the steering wheel and his fingers tearing holes through it like a skin or a film they must penetrate in order to drive. “That was a narrow escape,” says Big Pharmakos. “You almost got taken to see the caretaker.” He shudders. “I don’t know if you know it, but you did.” I say that I know it, but that I don’t know what would have been so bad about that. “Best to talk less rather than more, for the moment,” says Big Pharmakos, and I can hear Large, Creeping Charlie grunting assent. “Until it blows over. Why don’t you get some rest in the back? We prepared it for you.” Big Pharmakos nods to an area further behind me, behind the back seat, that I hadn’t seen until now. There’s a handsome wooden door, and I find it ajar and push my way in. Inside is my room back in the hotel in Dodge City, the proverbial “Room in Dodge City” itself, as it were. I go in, take out my box of Cuban mints and have one, counting how many are left, and put the box on the nightstand. I see that my bed is freshly made and the sheets are even turned down just as I like them. The blinds are drawn tightly, and I have no interest in opening them just yet. As I stand there, hoping there’s hot water in the shower, the telephone on the little work desk rings. I pick up, and Big Pharmakos meets me on the other end. “This is your captain speaking,” he says, laughing jovially. “Just an update from the road. We should be pulling in shortly, if all goes well. Conditions is clear,” he says, as if quoting a comedian whose routine he thinks I know well. “Sit tight, mister, it’s all gonna be fine and dandy.” I wait until he hangs up, and then I walk toward the bathroom to see about that hot shower.

As I sit in this waiting room, looking at those same two magazine covers, a nurse pops her head out of a door that I hadn’t seen as a door until just before it opened (I would have labeled it “Part Of The Wall,” if unexpectedly asked to do so before this moment, and given no special grace period in which to consider my words more carefully). She looks around at all of us, then makes a second sweep, as if she’d failed to see something she’d been certain of seeing. This second time, her gaze alights on me, and stays there. I try to meet her gaze and stay right up with it, like we’re jogging side-by-side in a city park, around a manmade lake, and I’m starting to fall behind, out of breath, her gaze trotting on ahead of me into the green. But I stick with her long enough for her to break the spell by asking, “You want to come wait in The Waiting Pasture?” This time it’s me that makes a sweep of the other faces in here, to make sure she really is talking to me, but I get so out of breath that I have to hang my head and sigh. She takes that sigh as a sigh of assent, and tells me to collect my belongings. I pick up a metal box of breath mints that says Merry Christmas in Spanish, from some hotel in Havana, that was sitting on the shelf next to me, because I don’t want to go there empty-handed. As I walk toward her, I can tell that I made a good decision, and pat the mints approvingly where they sit nestled tightly in my jeans’ inner pocket, which often teenagers and others refer to as The Drug Pocket. She leads me down a hallway lined with fishtanks, and asks if I’m taking any prescription medications or major risks, and then asks if I have any questions for her. “Sure,” I begin, “What’s The Waiting Pasture?” But she’s gone, along with the hallway and the fish, and now I’m in a Pasture. The air is extremely clean and good smelling, like the way someone who’d grown up in a closet on a space station might imagine the air in Switzerland in the nineteenth century to have smelled in high summer. There is a long, long extension cord snaking through the grass, and I almost trip over it, and then I follow it, and find that it’s plugged into a soda machine in the distance that says Fresca and is full of Fresca and Snapple. I drink one and sit in the grass by myself, untying my shoes and pulling the tongues way out, so they can graze and leave my socks momentarily in peace. I look out at the lush expanse all around and think, “Between Kurosawa videos, the caretaker apparently has his hands full managing this place.” I yawn, and in the distance hear a nurse yell, “Marty Coswald!” And a shiver passes through me, a shiver of relief that that isn’t me, that my name is something else. I’m not being called away from here just yet, and swallows and larks are passing overhead, neither here nor there, heavily involved in their own separate business that intersects mine at a point directly above my bald spot, if I had one, and is now finished. I recline and think, “If I’m still here a minute from now, I’m going to have one of those mints from Havana.”

I finally reach the bottom, nearly a month later. It was a fairly easy way down, affording me ample time to range and graze comfortably like a cow in my thinking. My expectations of where I’d land changed consistently, at least once per day, sometimes thousands of times per hour. Some of the falling days were spent thinking the fall would kill me, and that this was my last day, my last second even, and other days I went leaping way ahead, wondering where I’d get linens and new clothes in the place where I landed, and if I’d need to put an ad on Craigslist to find an apartment when I got there, and how to find the right extension for Dodge City, to call the hotel and let them know I’d be gone for a long time, and to please close up my room and put all of my papers in a box or crate, making sure not to accidentally read through them even while packing them very carefully and making sure none got blown by the wind of the ceiling fan into cracks in the corner of the room. I ended up landing in a hot parking lot, with a few cars at various angles and tall weeds eating through the concrete. The ground is hard so, the moment before impact, I was sure this was it, goodbye world and so on, but, as it turns out, I landed standing up. It wasn’t even so much that  I landed, per se, but just that I ended up standing here, in the parking lot. I stood here a while, trying to remember the month of falling, unsure if it’d really happened or if I’d taken the bus out here and spent the hour or two with my head against the glass, thinking about a long, long fall, while a guy drank wine from a plastic cup in the seat next to me and asked if I knew about the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses. In this parking lot is a one-story structure, like an office or info center. I went in, and here I am now. I’m sitting in a plastic chair in a white-tiled waiting room, like the police station of some remote desert village, and there are weeds poking through the tiles in here just like there were in the parking lot, and a ceiling fan is patrolling the ceiling in slow rounds. It’s deathly hot, and I try to roll up my jeans but the material is too thick. There are others sitting here, and they watch me like they’ve been waiting a long time. There’s a magazine rack in front of an indoor window with a closed wooden shade, like where a receptionist might poke her head through to call your name. On the rack, is a children’s magazine, and another magazine that has a cover story about Kobo Abe, with a picture of a young, very muscular man who must be someone else, posing as him. The people in the waiting room look at me looking at the magazines, like they’re waiting for me to make a move. Finally, I ask aloud, “What are we all waiting for?” Heads converge on me. “Shhhhhh!” they say. “The caretaker is in there, watching his Kurosawa videos.” They nod toward the wooden curtain. “If anyone disturbs him, he’s going to start all over at the beginning.”

than I could have anticipated, even had I had a head start in imagining it. I’m still falling, away from the Safe House and toward a lower surface that has not yet been revealed. The beings are falling with me, rotating in their conical language, telling campfire stories with a solemn, dutiful attitude, as far as I can tell. So I’ll drift down and listen with them for now, entertaining whatever they might have to say, and hoping that it entertains me. It is now January 2nd, and it may well be well into January before I reach solid ground.