Archives for the month of: February, 2012

As the waiting for the Dalton Event goes on, I find that my sense of waiting, as in “the particularity of waiting,” weakens. I no longer feel so certain that waiting is what I am doing. I am perhaps, rather, simply “in a place,” doing whatever one does or can do in a place. The first room, with the various viewing booths and such, has proven to be not the only such room. There are numerous others, which I have, since my last posting, perused. In one, I ducked under a curtain and watched a short video in which a girl goes into a hip neighborhood cafe early in the morning and, after waiting in line, is asked what she’d like to have for breakfast. “Some warm beer, please,” she says, to which the barista replies, “certainly,” and pours her a cup of boiling hot coffee. The girl gratefully takes a gigantic gulp of the boiling liquid and her face is burned to a charred nub. Slowly, as she daubs it with a napkin, a hyena face grows out of the wreckage, like it was “the best that could be salvaged.” She dries the hyena face off with the rest of the napkin, clutching it inexpertly with her hyena paws. “How’s your warm beer?” the barista asks, coyly, to which the hyena replies, “a bit chilly,” and, cackling, departs that place. I move on to another room, fingering my “Dalton” ticket in my pocket. I transfer it from the side pocket of my pants to the front pocket of my coat and think, “Now I’ve done a day’s work.” I laugh to myself in a sweaty way and know that soon I’ll be overcome by hunger and will have to sit down. I wonder when the last time I ate was, and what. I’m touching the walls now, running my hands along them like a sufferer from some compulsion. They are decked out in, or made of, gauze and felt and fatty wax and sinew. I touch them and, where possible, break little pieces off and roll them between my fingers before letting go. I think of this place now as a petting zoo of sorts, and realize that I am being babied. They are perhaps making fun of me, of me waiting, knowing that there’s precious little else I can possibly do. I hope to chance upon some village social night soon, with steaming plates of spaghetti or something, and all the elders lined up to judge the entrants in the annual Dessert Competition. I see an old Americana sign tacked to a wall that says “A Journey of 1000 Miles Begins at 711.” I start to get dizzy. Almost by accident, I stumble into another viewing booth. This one is more interactive than most. I’ve barely been in here for a second before it’s co-opted me entirely. Now I am the subject of this scene:

I’m at the edge of the deep jungle in the middle of the night. The usual tiger is standing beside me. He says, “You better get in there and find yourself a place to live.” Thinking of myself also as a tiger, I am at first surprised that I can speak. “You mean like go apartment hunting?” I ask. “You better find somewhere where someone else isn’t,” he replies, and is gone. Bearing this advice in mind, I enter the dense vegetation, looking for signs of inhabitance. I wake up a lion, here, and then a lynx, there, and several pumas and panthers, not to mention snakes, all taken as signs that these sites are inhabited and hence not, for me, inhabitable. Other tigers gnash their teeth, spewing hot grassy saliva, but I, believing myself to be a tiger, believe that they are merely suggesting in our common language that I try a different district in my search for a suitable residence. But then one tiger, awoken suddenly, paws me across the face, tearing out part of one cheek and the underside of the eye on that side, and enough of my gum to leave my upper canines exposed, and with them one whole row of teeth almost back to the molars. Not accustomed to this new wetness upon me, nor to the strange sensation of the night upon my back teeth, I take off at a run. In the distance, I see lights burning, obscured by a moving film of insects. I run through them, making my customary “running through the car wash with eyes closed” whoop. Finally, I arrive. I scuttle past various carts and motorcycles parked outside, and in through the clattering screen door. Though the door makes a loud sound behind me, my arrival seems to go unannounced. My face is now so wet that I feel fresh from the shower. Inside is a dim living room, minimally furnished. There is only a TV set and a man who appears to be a colonel, in tight military T-shirt, naked from the waist down. “You some kind of a eloquent bitch, ain’t you?” he shouts, perhaps at me, but not in my direction. The TV says this same phrase, again and again, so that either he is repeating it, or it him, or they have each chanced upon the phrase independently, through some coincidence. This last possibility seems the least likely, for, when I take a closer look at the TV, I see that this same colonel is on the screen, leading what appears to be an exercise program consisting primarily of the phrase, “You some kind of a eloquent bitch, ain’t you?” The man in the room before me shouts it again, and I see that the object he holds throttled in his hand is an appendage, perhaps one of his own. He grips it ferociously and gesticulates in a wide dripping arc at the screen, as if he believed it to be (or as if it in fact were) a remote control. Perhaps he has pulled it off himself just recently, in a moment of imprudence, or else taken it from another in a recent altercation or exchange. I can see that soon he will crush it to jelly in his fist. I leave him to it and press further into the house, looking for a place to sleep. In the rooms that follow I see a great many figures suspended on hooks. They are almost human but bloated tremendously, their chests and shoulders and thighs so engorged that words like “slabs” or “hocks” seem the only fitting ones to try in this instance. I wonder if there is truly such a thing as “popping,” or only an infinity of “swelling.” Their faces are in some cases so obscured by meat that they barely peep out at all, like the faces of a hermit crab. I take up a cleaver from a nearby table and, striding over to one such fellow, hack off a good handful of his bodily material, whispering to him, “You some kind of a eloquent bitch, ain’t you?” It comes away easily, with a few gentle strokes of the cleaver. Looking at my hand as it swings, I am given pause regarding the question of whether or not I am actually a tiger. Tasting the meat, I cannot tell how old it is. Its inner fluids have congealed into the consistency of a condiment, which I find rather agreeable. I stroll from room to room, each one fuller than the last with these huge suspended forms, carrying the cleaver with one hand, snacking with the other. Finally, when I tire of this, I seek out an unoccupied hook and ease myself first up to and then down onto it, still holding the cleaver. I wiggle around until I manage to slot the tooth of the hook properly into the eye of my spine, and then I relax. I feel some gel-like anesthetic from the metal coursing more or less directly into my brain stem, and relish the tingly feeling. When next I feel like it, I bring the cleaver down onto my thigh and tear off a nice handful, which I raise to my lips, wrapped in denim like a tortilla shell. “You some kind of a eloquent bitch, ain’t you?” I whisper, as I take a bite.

I pass out of the Wayfarer’s Tavern through the slot in the back, carrying my strip of paper that still says “Dalton” and is, I have learned, an entrance ticket for an event of some sort. Bouncers in jeans and black T-shirts come out from under lit torches along the walls and glide along beside me in silence like a dance. Behind them, off to the sides, I can hear water lapping and dripping, and, for a moment, I wonder if they’ve recently come up out of the water, amphibious bouncers. It’s too dark, despite the torchlight, to tell if they are wet or dry. After ten or fifteen minutes of undifferentiated walking, a hand grabs me between the shoulder blades and compels me into a side-chamber, a kind of nave. “You wait in here,” he grumbles, and is gone, sliding some rough-sounding panel shut behind him, penning me in. A dim light creeps on, from where I cannot tell. There’s a small box at one edge of the space that looks like a Nickelodeon or a peep show box, on stilts like a tripod. I look in here, adjusting my eyelashes so I can see with my eye pressed against the cold glass of the viewer. Inside transpires an altercation between two pale men in faintly striped shirts, almost like mimes, but neither their costumes nor their mannerisms are quite extreme enough. The film is silent, but one is clearly shouting in a livid state at the other, spittle fuming up onto his lips. The other has more of a slow-burning quality, staring hard as the man yells on and on, in a fit. Finally, apparently unable to bear it any longer, the slow-burning man reaches out with an unhurried but very deliberate finger at the screaming man, and draws it harshly from left to right, apparently aiming at the man’s lips, as if to mime zipping them shut. But he aims too low and, with that horizontal motion, slits the the other man’s throat with the tip of his finger. The slit man sputters and shakes like a man under a fire hose, until he is so drenched in blood that his feet struggle to stay on the floor, and then he topples, and, for a moment, floats. His murderer regards his fingertip curiously, then breathes a luxurious sigh of relief now that the shouting has died down. The film repeats. I watch it one more time, and then move to another part of the dim chamber. In another corner, I find a commode stuffed full with letters, all addressed to “Doctor” or “Professor” Dalton. Many look like they’ve been steamed open. I take up one of these and slide out the letter inside. It’s short, and written in a handsome, modestly italicized cursive. It reads:

Dear Professor Dalton,

I regret the great length of time that has passed since last we’ve corresponded. I can only assume that a great deal has transpired in your life since then, most of it, I hope, of a salubrious and optimistic nature. I can mostly report the same for myself, although, as you may perhaps not know, I committed suicide in the autumn of ’97. It was no tremendous thing, simply a task that had to be attended to. I would have written sooner, were I not such an inveterate procrastination-artist. Anyway, since the suicide, I have resided in a room that is not altogether uncomfortable, although it is not especially remarkable either. “One ought better not expect too much from these sorts of places,” after all. The room looks to have once been a station of some sort, a bus or a train station, for instance, although there are no tracks to be seen. Whether it is some rendition of heaven or hell I cannot say. I have the impression that it is neither, but perhaps some decorator is still en route, and will see to it that the place is hung with more evocative decorations. I do not know whether or not I long for this. There is a newsstand with a rack of belletristic paperbacks, the majority of which I have by this point read. A few I was unable to complete. There is a food stall in one corner that serves reasonably tasty items like calzones and hot pockets, and has chili about once a week. The women who work there wear hairnets and call me “Joven,” which I find amusing. They have at long last agreed to serve me coffee with only a modicum of sugar. There is a chronic shortage of paper napkins, but, with patience, we get by. All in all, at any rate, all is well. I look forward to your reply.

 

The letter was unsigned. I put it back in its steamed-open envelope, and felt momentarily guilty, as if I were the one that had steamed it open. Then the guilt subsided and I wondered what to do next.

The waiting goes on all day. I sit on and on at my table in the back, looking at the mugs arrayed up by the ceiling, and I crunch sawdust and peanut shells underfoot. I picture the magnitude of the divine realms, but soon tire of this, finding myself to have made little objective progress. Then I try thinking about Spinoza, but don’t know where to start. There seems to be no one else here, not even a bartender. I see some feral dogs skulking just outside the doors, but they appear wary of entering. I try to think of a brand new word and masticate it like a Knut Hamsun character, but every new word I think of turns out not to be so new. Finally, I decide to stretch my legs by going to the bathroom. I crunch shells the whole way, and bring a smile to my face by pretending that they’re egg shells and I’m “walking on egg shells” but mainly just smashing them with glee, rather than being careful, which is what I believe this expression means, though I’ve never heard it used, or at least not for a long time. When I get back to the bathroom, of which there is only one, I hear a low whimpering through the door. I wait, with some fascination, by the coat rack, but then I see that the door is ajar, not locked, so I take this as a sign and push my way in. Inside, I  encounter a woman sitting on the lowered toilet seat drenched in sweat, panting and crossing herself in a frenzy with a gnarled crucifix made of wire, nails and what looks like hair, mingling with her hair, which gets caught in its crevices as she brings it fast and hard across her face, completing the motion time after time. There appears to be some aquatic component to this crucifix as well, bits of coral and seaweed woven in. Finally, in exaggerated exhaustion, she stops crossing herself and looks at me, holding the object between us. “There’s a sing-up list at the bar, you know,” she says. “You just put your name down with the bartender, then you get a turn to borrow it, fair and square.” I tell her that the bartender is not here. She looks incredulous, then sighs and says, “Don’t matter all that much, I suppose. You’d have to wait at least a year until your name came up anyways. Everyone’s in line for this thing.” She hefts the crucifix approvingly, closing one eye to avoid a sharp tendril poking it out. “What’s that you got there?” she asks, pointing to the strip of paper dangling between my fingers. I’d forgotten I had it. I hold it up to her now, like the fortune from a fortune cookie. “Dalton,” she reads. “This is a ticket, you know,” she says. I don’t say that I didn’t know. I stand there mute instead, waiting to see what she’ll do. She holds the crucifix back away from me, like she thinks I’m going to make a move for it. Then she gets up, with a squishy sweat sound as she peels herself off the plastic toilet seat, and opens a panel in the back wall. It opens onto a hallway. “It’s going on down there,” she says. “Make sure you take the door marked ‘Dalton,’ not the one marked ‘Barry.’ You don’t want to have a bouncer situation by going to where your ticket don’t say you can go.” She waits until I’m gone. I can hear her taking up the crucifix again, worrying over lost time.

Seeing no sense in haggling nor otherwise prolonging our interaction with the truck driver turned diamond vendor, my traveling companion and I accept the handfuls of diamonds that he’s shoved up to our faces, and sign on a clipboard where he’s got the financing plan all laid out. We’re in it now for a certain amount per month, for a great number of years. Then the dealer gets back in his truck, which looks less like a barn parked here in the city than it did last night, parked by the water in the countryside. He peels off, and my companion and I face the morning, newly rich in gems while also, of course, deep in a new and unforeseen debt, unlikely though it seems that the addresses we provided on that clipboard will ever catch up with us in any place of our actual waking or sleeping residence. We begin to walk the streets, looking for a breakfast of anything that might calm and fortify us. We’ve decided privately to remain the people that the diamond-dealer thought we were — the two buyers, that is — lacking, as we do, any positive other sense of who we might be to contradict this. But the strain of this ruse soon proves too much for my companion, and he flickers and winks away. Now he’s gone. I myself start to feel a little unsteady on my feet, pixelated and wavy like a character in a video game, watching myself walk from a vantage just above my shoulders, my eyes focused on the middle of my back where the wings would begin were I an angel. From this remove, and in the quiet left in my companion’s wake, I see something that I hadn’t seen before, which is that this city we traveled so far to reach is in fact Dodge City, the same city that I departed from more than a month ago, if, indeed, I ever departed at all. It’s the same place, alright, but everything looks more spread out, like a mathematical size transformation has been performed, or the distance between molecules has been multiplied. My steps feel longer and steeper than I remember them having felt, and soon I have to sit down on a bench. A vendor comes by pushing a cart and, as the cart goes along, a park gets drawn up behind him. So now I’m sitting in the park, eating a hot donut and looking at birds leaping from tree to tree with video game flourishes nestled in the arcs of their complex motion. Across the way, through some ivy, I can see the window of my room, and try and fail to remember when I slept there last. I’d like to sleep there now. I see a poster nailed to a tree with just the name Barry Dalton printed on it, and frayed tags on the bottom that say either Barry or Dalton, but not both, and have no phone numbers nor other information. Many have been ripped off. I rip one too, a Dalton, and start walking. As the day wears on, I make my way to the familiar street that houses the Wayfarer’s Tavern — looking giant, with the size transformation still in potent effect — and push my way in through the dusty saloon doors and make my way to a table in the back. I order a drink with a few of my diamonds, and study the paper I tore from the sheet, waiting until something about it strikes me in such a way that the next step begins to loom on my horizon, which, for now, is blank and clear, shipless, nothing if not pacific.

Wearied by the TV, I go over to the window of my room and sit down on the couch. I stretch out with my arm along the upper back part, which maybe you’d call a headrest, the way I’ve seen suave lounge-type actors do in movies. I mean to look up at the lighting in my room’s ceiling, to “stare the bulb down” and thereby reawaken my eyes, but, instead, I look straight through the top of the window and see the moon. I’m so surprised that, for a moment, I think I’m outside, and the ceiling is the sky and so on. Then I remember that we’re still driving, and my room has been superimposed into the back of the vehicle. It’s night now, clearly, a full and sagging moon over a prairie or tundra. We must have a long drive still ahead us. I don’t know why this has to be true just going on the fact that we’ve already driven so long, but I think it must be. The moon throws me into a dream. I’m at the edge of a barn with a small glittering lake off to my right, knocking on the padlocked doors. Someone lets me in, my partner-in-crime, like we were two boxcar children a decade ago, and now we’re boxcar young men, still breaking into barns and hopping trains and all just like we used to. Inside the barn, we wade quickly through the sawdust and shimmy up a pole and onto a loft, hoping that we weren’t seen or heard. He’s got our bedrolls and other supplies already up there, like he’s been waiting a long time to meet me here. Up there in the loft, we huddle among the straw and the whole place starts moving. It’s almost like we’re on horseback departing the stable for a midnight gallop through the lowlands, but the stable — that is, the barn — is moving along with us. It’s the bed of a truck now, way up high, maybe thirty feet off the road. We’re racing down the highway, signs of 711’s and Mobil stations encasing us on all sides, with the names of towns and states all but lost among them. I think about the pole we shimmied up, and realize that if we shimmied back down now it’d lead right into the main compartment of the truck, and the driver would know we’d stowed-away, and the game would be up. So my boxcar companion and I hold our ground, trying to rub straw into our exposed skin to keep a little warm. But the inevitability of climbing down from here starts to dawn on me. I start to see that, one day, we’ll have to come down, and the driver will see us, and the game will be up then much as it would be now. I push the thought away until morning. In the morning, we open our eyes and see that a city has come up all around. A big place, probably second only to the capital of whatever province or country we’re currently in. We steel ourselves to accept the end, and get ready to climb down the pole. But now there are stairs, and they lead down the side of the truck, not into its center. Perhaps we’ll manage to escape from here undetected after all. We climb down slowly, feigning dignity. The driver meets us at the bottom, and we kiss our little selves goodbye. But what he has in his hands is not a butcher’s knife but a clutch of diamonds. Both of his open palms are so full of diamonds that, if he tried to make fists around them, they’d bulge something awful. He starts right in trying to sell us the diamonds, pushing them up close to our faces like they were salt crystals and we were horses, expected to lick them right up from off of him. Not only does he not seem to know that we stowed-away in his truck, he seems to think that we are the very people he drove all this way into the city to meet.