Archives for the month of: March, 2012

After the Boy Sparklehorse encounter in the ice cream parlor, I’m ready to cash in this day for the next one in the stack. So I start heading in what I’m fairly certain is the direction of my hotel, though I’ve never approached it from this angle. I find the city is often if not always smaller than I expect, things closer than they seem through alleyways that cut at non-right angles.

 

Yup. Here’s my hotel now.

 

Yawning in the trenchcoat, dawn breaking up above the awning that says the hotel’s name, I push through the door and hear the old-style bell ring. There’s no one at the front desk, which there’s usually not. Reassuring. Then I hear what sounds like canned laughter from the multipurpose room, and have a hunch.

 

Following the hunch despite how much I’d rather go upstairs to bed, I press through the ajar multipurpose room door and watch Big Pharmarkos practicing his stand-up material, prancing on the stage in a glamor get-up with a touch of the Hawaiian about it. He likes to practice right at dawn, I’ve noticed. He has his mic plugged into a guitar amp and a small crowd — 10 or 12 — men and woman, who share this thing about them that makes me gravitate toward calling them “hangers-on,” is lounging in positions between sitting and lying in the various armchairs and loveseats, some curled up together, others staring at the out-of-service slot machines against the back wall, several munching Lorna Doones from the vending machine, one or two actually watching Big Pharmakos.

 

When he sees me we nod back and forth.

 

I watch the rest of his set, neither especially interesting nor especially not interesting. When he’s done, he puts the mic on the amp, letting it hiss like one or the other is smoking, and comes over. “Good thing you came by,” he says, apparently recognizing me right away despite my new coat. Maybe the Saturnalia is over. “They moved your room to a house. C’mon, I’ll take you.”

 

I follow him out, the hangers-on turning their heads a few degrees to watch our movement, but none of them turning all the way to see us through the door. We walk into the misty, clean dawn, smoking and jaunting in our hips, stretching out in the favorable weather. The night’s heat has broken and turned to dew. “I saw them moving it,” says Big Pharmakos. He doesn’t ask me where I’ve been, and I don’t say.

 

We walk a long way, long enough for our (my?) relaxed strolling attitude to turn somewhat quaint and behind-the-times. We even pass the junkyard, where Junkyard Charles Matthiesson is awake, his back turned to us.

 

“They put it in this house,” says Big Pharmakos, pointing to a handsome but decrepit outskirts farmhouse that reminds of the place where Joe Christmas once allegedly murdered his much older lover with a razorblade, a straight razorblade I believe it was.

 

“I’ll see you,” says Big Pharmakos, and makes a gesture that looks like he’s either very hungry or needs to find a bush behind which to shit in a hurry. I leave him with a nod and make my way in, finding the door ajar and a key in a pail beside it, for later, when it’s locked, I guess.

 

The staircase creaks when I step on it, and I creak my way up to the second floor. Before long, I find my room. It’s exactly the same as it was back in the hotel, even with the same number and keyhole in the door (the “same exact door,” I might say). Inside (it opens with my usual key), I find that Housekeeping has been by and turned down my sheets and turned the two water glasses on the desk upside-down, atop those doily paper protectors that keep dust from getting in. I go to open the window but then decide I’ll save this step, so as not to get all the fun of discovery over with too soon.

 

I’m not ready to sleep so I go back down to see if there’s a coffeemaker. Amidst the creaking of the stairs I hear and then smell (or vice versa) coffee brewing.

 

It’s brewing in the kitchen.

 

In there I see it brewing, and then I see a man about my height and shape at the table, with an empty cup. “It’s not ready yet,” he says.

 

“It is,” I say.

 

He turns to look, the room newly silent. “Ah. It is now,” he says. We both help ourselves to cups, then sit at the table with them.

 

“So, Oliver Treatment,” he says. I don’t especially wonder how he knows my name, if it is my name. “I’m Jerry.” I greet him civilly.

 

“You know the deal with me?” he asks. I say that I don’t.

 

He launches into a long story about how he used to be a notorious outlaw until the police thought they’d killed him and fell off his trail. I must be falling asleep as he talks because I start to think he’s describing a dream he’s had as he tells of his exploits, and then I think, “No, it’s a dream I had that he’s describing.”

 

“The crux of it,” he says, “came the night in the supermarket. I won’t tell you what I did in there,” he looks at the clock and confirms his good judgment on this count. “But, let’s just say, when I ran out of there the cops ran out with me, guns about to blaze. I ran right across the parking lot and hopped the guardrail onto the bike path, and from there it was straight into the woods. A kind of bog, actually.

 

“This was two, three in the morning, by the way. So I’m running through this bog, waiting for the cops to open fire. And you know what I hear? What I hear is a single shot. One single shot, somewhere way off behind me.

 

“The cops took a shot in the dark. Just one.

 

“Probably hit a tree or something, if that. But they publicized all over town that they’d killed me. Never showed a body or anything, but that’s the story they went with. Like the opposite of a WANTED poster, you know? Announcing my death. And I just kept going about my business in town, without even laying low or disguising myself or changing my name. And no one’s ever bothered me. Even though everyone knows me. I even still shop at that same supermarket, though I’ll admit I rarely think about doing what I did again. And this was years ago. Been subletting this place here probably six months.”

 

He looks extremely proud of the story he’s just told. I ask him if there are other roommates.

 

“Just one he says. Name of ‘Chad, Who Disappears for 10-15 Minutes at a Time.'”

 

“Ok,” I say. “He around?”

 

Jerry looks up at the clock and then looks back at me clockeyed. “I’d say 7 minutes at least. Optimistic.”

 

I get up with what’s left of my coffee and go onto the porch. I walk once around the house and then down the steps, painted white but almost fully peeled, and into the yard. A thick and fragrant mist blows in as I walk.

 

Now the house is so wreathed that it looks like a place teased out of a dream in the minute or two after waking, when I’ve rolled up onto my side in bed but haven’t yet “gotten up” in full.

 

I stand there admiring it, then wonder about going back in — the if and the how.

 

The prospect of reentry feels about as certain as recommencing a dream broken off in the middle by waking with a start. Unlikely, but not impossible.

I purchase the long coat I’m wearing, at the moment not eager to part from it, and exit the secondhand shop. I make my way back into the Dodge City night dressed in what appears to be a full new outfit, so much of my figure does the new coat cover. Drawing it tight around myself with its waist-sash like a trenchcoat, I begin to walk, thinking of myself now as the student who’s come to town looking for something for nothing. My whole figure now, inner and outer, is done up in a bit of a nod to Michael Cisco.

 

Walking without destination, a kind of sadness at the immensity of time overtakes me. I find that I can no longer remember when I came to Dodge City (neither what the moment was, nor when it was, nor even what ‘when’ might mean in this case), nor can I be certain that I have not been here always, since the very first moment when I can claim to have been in any place at all, at least on this earth. The earlier understanding I’d had about having come to this city from far away, in order to dispatch a certain task, is gone now. Maybe it will return when I find it in me to peel off this coat and renounce its associated identity.

 

Lost in such thoughts and their related retinue, I blunder into an ice cream shop. Had the shop not been open I wouldn’t have been at all surprised — my feeling is that it must be nearly dawn by now — but the shop, which closes at 9pm, is not only open but full, so here I am waiting in line.

 

I bungle my order when it’s my chance to tell the scooper what to scoop, and end up with a compromise in my hands, some combination of flavors that I’m sure will suffice. Scanning the cramped interior for a place to sit, my eyes come to rest on the only table with a free seat, a boy of twelve sitting on the other side.

 

I make my way over and ask the boy, who’s humming quietly and dripping ice cream from a cracked sugar cone, if I may share the seating with him, and he nods distractedly. I take a seat and begin the work of discovering what concoction of flavors I’ve come away with. He looks at me with one big eye, the other turned away. Weighing his words, he says, “You’re that new student, aren’t you?” I don’t say anything for a moment. “Oliver Treatment,” he says. I take it this is the student’s name, though I can’t imagine how this boy would’ve come to know such a thing. But I nod, and, for now at least, accept the name. “I guess you got here, finally,” he says, and then turns his head as if to leave the matter at that.

 

“And who, in that case, might you be?” I ask, not content to cease all conversation just yet.

 

He hesitates again, back in the humming place he was in when I found him, but then he comes out of it. “I’m Mark Linkous,” he says. “AKA Sparklehorse.” Neither of us says anything for a little while. Then he adds, “back from the dead. In town for a little break.”

 

He says it like he’s on summer vacation, which, I suppose, he may well be. There’s something canned-sounding about not only his voice but his choice of words, as if they were all fixed phrases he’d been told to say and from which he cannot deviate. “Sparklehorse is dead, I know and you know,” he says. “But, for good behavior, he’s allowed to come back sometimes. Like now, for instance. But they didn’t have his grown-up body available for the trip, so they outfitted him back into his childhood body. They had to make do, you know?”

 

I picture bodies in a garage like rental cars, an agent walking down the row to see which ones they can offer, and at what price and insurance bracket. I almost want to ask him if he has insurance for the body he’s in, but I can tell that that would deviate from what he’s been taught to say and would thus be met with silence. I wonder if someone else is moving about, someplace else, in the adult Sparklehorse body, not to mention the adolescent, or if those are simply out of circulation now, perhaps melted down and recast beyond recognition.

 

There’s a kind of deferential quality in his voice whenever he talks about the grown-up Sparklehorse, like that Sparklehorse is his father and he’s the child, away from home for the first time, maybe visiting his grandparents in another town, on his very best behavior.

 

“If you really are Sparklehorse,” I say to him, “can I ask you about your music? I have some questions that I’d … ”

 

But when I look up, he’s gone. His dad probably told him not to talk to strangers, I think. I look around for a napkin dispenser to mop up the leavings of the two servings of ice cream, his and mine, both now sopping from the table onto the floor. I wonder how much vacation time he gets. Probably not much, I think, and then I try to decide how I feel about this, like if I wish he got more, or less, or if I’m happy with the amount he gets.

With the post-theater Dodge City evening wearing on, the rest of the audience still pent up in their theater seats, I press further down the street and around a corner, into an area of lower buildings, atmosphere sparser. I’m trying not to look at the few people around, my temples aching, feeling the others looking at me, watching my eyes throb. It’s mainly teenagers out at this hour, preparing to drive drunk down long county roads, accompanied by loud radios and friends singing different songs, louder still. I don’t know any of them but, somehow, the few whose faces I see don’t look like themselves. They look, rather — how can I put it? — like each other. Each one looks like a different one, and vice versa, or whatever form “vice versa” might take when used to mean a group of people and some property commuted among them, rather than just two things swapped. Wanting to get off the street pretty much asap, I duck into the first place that looks open, which turns out to be a secondhand shop. “Loved Once … ” it’s called.

A bell dings when the door closes behind me. I try to get into some back area without being greeted, but, sure enough, the two teenagers, a boy and a girl, at the front desk, greet me. I think they even call me Mr. “Something,” but I don’t catch the name because I’m too busy looking from one to the other and back again. I see the same thing I saw on the street: I can’t shake the conviction that they have also been switched, so that the boy is actually the girl, and the girl actually the boy. It’s some kind of Saturnalia, a situation afoot in town tonight (or maybe not just tonight, but “Starting Tonight!”) by which what people look like and who they actually are have come unbound from one another, such that I might see Big Pharmakos in one of the back aisles here, and yet know, in some gut-level, inarguable, intuitive way, that he actually is Large, Creeping Charlie, despite the fact that everything outward about him would indicate, with a false sense of comfort, that he is indeed Big Pharmakos, as usual. Like someone might see me and think, “Look, it’s Lt. Ingmar Pörn, back from the hospital and looking younger than before.” I push fast past this greeting by the front door and into a side chapel full of old coats on racks and shoes in a jumble against one wall. I want to calm down in a hurry so I start flipping through the coats on the rack, huffing their mothball odor, thinking … I don’t know, that this might have some soothing narcotic effect. But all it does is further commute the Saturnalia into the coats themselves, so that, now, each coat is a person. They still look like coats but, as I touch each one, I become increasingly certain that each one is a person I know: here’s Big Pharmakos, here’s Large, Creeping Charlie, here’s Rigid Steve and Fiscal Steven, his accountant, here’s Junkyard Charles Matthiesson and H.P. Lovecraft, and even, I think, Dalton himself. My fingers recoil from the fabric, which feels wet and oily now, like bubbling soap left under a dripping shower in a stall where prisoners have been deloused and hosed down. I try to wipe my fingers on my pockets, but I find that, somewhere in the midst of all this, I’ve put on one of the coats, so my pockets are no longer where they were, blocked now by coat pockets. This only deepens the state. Now I think it all must have some meaning, like perhaps I’ve relegated my former acquaintances and endeavors here in Dodge City to this secondhand rack, trying (perhaps in vain, perhaps not) to consign it away and move on to something newer.

I look back at the coat that is Big Pharmakos and wonder if he knows that I know it’s him. Then I get to thinking again about that student who put his ad up on the message board, the one who’s coming to town in search of something for nothing. I can’t believe that I’ve forgotten about him for as long as I have, given how recently he first entered my awareness. Then I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the for-sale floor-length mirrors, wearing this new-old coat, and think, “Perhaps I am this student, my self commuted into him, for at least as long as this Saturnalia persists.” And then, of course, I have to ask myself the next question in this sequence, no matter how banal …

I finished “Voss,” The Great Australian Novel, a while ago, to give an idea of how long I’ve been up here. I found some Turkish Delight and Candied Orange Slices and Candied Ginger, and some cans of Ginger Ale, to keep me going. I am covered in the Sweat of Ginger Ale, but I don’t mind as much as I did because now a door that had been locked has been opened, surely according to someone’s will (maybe that of an usher of the Dalton Event?). They saw fit to let me go, and so here I go. The Great Australian Novel is back on the shelf where I found it, but it’s propped on its side because the wall of other Patrick White novels was too dense to wedge it all the way back in, at least with my hands as sweaty as they were, and are.

I pass down a short hallway decked out with a heavy hushed quality and am received by an usher who hands me a program and puts a shushing finger to her lips. I can tell that I am late to the performance, perhaps laughably so. I take a seat towards the back. It’s too dark to read the program, but the play sooner or later reveals itself to be Medea, an oldie. It’s almost the end now, the mad desperate murder almost upon us. There’s a kind of tired sense of conventional anticipation in the audience, like we’ve all seen this before. We know that she’s going to kill her children, and we know also that the effect will be, for us, demeaned because we are a veteran theater audience and have seen all these tragedies too many times over the years, as if there weren’t enough of them to constantly see new ones. She’s in her keening last monologue now, beyond reason, about to take up the knife. I space in and out, shivering in my sweat in the cool theater, thinking about John Wilkes Booth in the row behind me, and other tangential figures, some real and some unreal. Now she’s done it: she’s killed her children, as the ancient and vaunted script requires her to do time after time, probably at least once per night somewhere on earth.

 

The final scene, and now the curtain call. The cast, some of them blood-spattered, most of them teary-eyed, comes onstage, and takes a bow above the slaughtered children, as if saluting them. The children do not move. The applause begins polite and sleepy but becomes something else as the cast keeps taking more bows, and raising their hands to the ceiling to thank the tech crew, all of the usual things, while the children lie motionless in a butchered heap on the floor, under the curtain, puddles like shadows spreading steadily away from them. Something is shifting in the theater, some unease, like a new presence has entered the room unheard under cover of clapping. The audience wants, I can tell,  very badly to see those children stir. It wants to see them get up and smile through their stage-blood-drenched faces, and scamper backstage to get dressed and come out into the lobby.

 

But that doesn’t happen, and isn’t going to.

 

The cast up there onstage can tell that something is wrong with the audience tonight, and now a fear rises up in them as well, as if perhaps they are trapped in this theater with a mass of disturbed, dangerous, visitors. What is wrong with these people? they wonder. I can hear their thoughts, or think I can. Especially the woman who played Medea, bloody knife still in her hand. Who is it that’s come to see me tonight? she wonders. And what do they think they’ve seen? They came to watch me kill my children, and I did it and they saw me do it, and so … what’s the problem? Panic is spreading through the audience at being trapped in this room with a woman holding a knife with which she has just murdered her children, after delivering a long and chilling monologue detailing exactly why she had to do it, why there was no alternative. I explained it all to them, she thinks. And none voiced any objection. They understood the tragic necessity, and were moved by it. None tried to intercede during the many shrieking minutes that the murder required, and yet look at them now … I can tell she’s afraid that they may rush up onto the stage and wrest the knife from her hands, trampling her into the same pile of scraps and leavings as her children.

 

Silence now reigns in the theater.

 

A frozen, mute congregation. If we leave quietly, the audience thinks, and turn our backs on what we’ve seen, as if we hadn’t seen it, would that be best? And Medea thinks, should I run backstage now, and slip out through a side door, burying the knife under the mattress in the break room, so I can find it again for tomorrow’s performance? What sort of an audience mutely watches something happen and is then terrified that it’s happened? I am in the presence of lost souls, she thinks.

 

I can smell the two bodies onstage, and the sweat of indecision from the audience. My throat feels dry and hard. I need to get out of here before this tension breaks in any of the many ways that it might. So I am the first to stand up out of the stunned seated mass, and I make my way as quietly as I can through the aisles, stepping over the little piles of wallets, cell phones, and coats that the now-traumatized guests have arranged at their feet.

 

No one hinders my exit. Outside the theater, I skulk through an alley, feeling myself watched by policemen in the shadows. Their eyes follow me but their bodies remain glued in place, and I can tell that their eyes are not registering anything about what they see, but moving only by some conditioned reflex, like spotlights. I come out to a post on a corner beside a park, a small church behind a fence nearby. The post is plastered with advertisements, many of them for the Medea we’ve just seen. “A Desperate Woman … One Way Out? Or … No Way Out?” reads the tagline, written in a bloody computerized font. There’s also one poster for the Dalton Event, with all of the tags from the bottom torn away. What most catches my eye is a series of papers that read:

 

“New Student, to arrive soon in Dodge City. I am not here to study, nor to work. I am looking to get SOMETHING FOR NOTHING. Interested parties reply to:  ” and he put his email address, which I don’t stop to read. I walk away from there, thinking about this character, soon to arrive apparently, in search of something for nothing in Dodge City. I have a feeling that I may perhaps run into him before long.

 

 

Sated from the cannibal interlude and hoping to pass quickly through the window (five hours, perhaps?) of food poisoning risk so as to relinquish my present concern about the state of my stomach, I take to strolling. I stroll around the chamber with all these cannibal video projectors, confident that by plying the wall long enough I will discover a door or chink in the masonry into another place. Eventually just such a thing turns out to exist. I pass through, and through some dim and dripping tunnels, and finally out onto a hot summer street in a place like Macon, GA (although I know it to be, of course, a further extension of Dodge City). I picture Harper Lee ladies sweltering on front porches, with iced tea and fans, watching some vehicle roll slowly down under cover of massive … oaks? Elms? I don’t know, and, anyway, all of that has little to do with all of this. It’s dark and I hear hotrods screeching and see young men covered over in tattoos like Polynesian warriors coming my way, lit by the lights of convenience stores. Past this crowd (almost an altercation?) I come to a store called Liquor Vinnie’s Elective Affinities. I enter, desirous of getting myself off the street, and find it to be a liquor store, or the remnants thereof. There are almost no people in here, and most of the liquor is gone, the shelves empty and sagging and tilting off their runners and toward the carpeting, which is patterned in squares but appears to be all one piece. The only people to be seen are drinking ferociously, men with deep scars and dilated bug-eyes, drinking in robotic resignation, one in each liquor department. The man in the Whiskey department, for example, is drinking only whiskey, while the man in Rum drinks only rum. They appear respectful of one another’s space and supplies. In Wine there’s a tasting table set up, a foldout I think, draped with a red and white checked tablecloth like in an Italian taverna. The man there has a bottle in each hand (red / white) and is pouring from both at once into a series of plastic cups, mixing the streams together and spilling onto the floor and somehow drinking from the two bottles as well, all at the same time. I watch him pour and drink, on and on, and decide I ought to do the same. I scan the aisles for a free section and find World Misc. I make my way over here and see a few bottles remaining: Armagnac, Fernet Branca, Ouzo, Cynar. I take up one in each hand and begin unscrewing the caps, thinking this might settle my stomach. As I do so a piercing alarm cuts through the glugging of the room. I look to see what the problem might be and notice that all the other men have nooses around their necks, attached to vanishing points in the ceiling like circus flying wires. I see my own noose in the dust under one of the shelves, and I take it up, brush it clean on my trousers, and fit it around my neck. Then I start in on what tastes like spoiled Amaretto.

I drink as much as I can until the noose pulls me up, hard, by the neck and straight to the ceiling, as I half-knew it would. I enjoy the view of the other drunks from above as I go up and up, crashing finally through the ceiling and into another chamber, where the noose releases me. This here turns out to be a garret apartment, where a literate bachelor may have lived, or live still. It is excruciatingly hot. I notice the cactus and fern collection, embedded in one wall. I stumble over, having dropped my bottle, and feel the sweat start to flow heavy. The temperature is rising, not yet at its peak. In among the plants I uncover a bookshelf arrayed with handsome, worn copies of the works of Patrick White. My fingers slip on the bindings as I try to get a grip on Voss, The Great Australian Novel. Finally I am able to pry it from the shelf, and I sink to the floor in a pool, my legs splayed out beneath me like sacs of water, breathing through nostrils dry as firewood. I open the book and begin with page 1, thinking to see how far I can get in one sitting.