Archives for the month of: April, 2012

The drilling sound that I heard through the walls of the Bone Room turned into the sounds of paintings being drilled into the other side of the wall. This turns out to be one of the walls of the gymnasium of Dodge City High, where both Professor Dalton and the Silent Professor have held forth in recent months, and where Big Pharmakos used to through the ol’ pigskin to some acclaim and with some notoriety, and where Jeff Bridges and Hank Williams and Jimmy Dean or whoever and who knows who all else got together to have a kind of moment one day long ago.

 

I pass through a chink in this wall, and, hearing nothing at all behind me, turn to discover that the Silent Professor has followed me through. So we’ll both be going to whatever’s happening in here.

 

We emerge into glaring lights and begin making our way among tables laid out with fingerfood. There’s a wine station, and a corner where some guys are drinking beers from a red cooler on wheels, and look to be giving them out too, to some people anyway, or maybe those people put in for the beers earlier and are now merely picking them up.

 

The Silent Professor stays near me, slouching in such a way that it looks exactly as though he’s leaning on a tall, narrow stool, though I see no evidence of such a thing. I keep trying to check behind him, but he keeps his front turned toward me, as if aware of my intentions and determined to thwart them. To shake off my wondering, I decide definitively that he is leaning on a stool, and wish I could have one too, as my feet are starting to get tired from wandering around this gym, looking at these pictures up on the wall.

 

Most of them are of frogs, some of daffodils, one or two are of what look like tonsils, and there’s one large one of those black and red candied raspberry / blackberries. Up near the ceiling hangs a banner so long that the two walls do nothing to pull it taut. It reads “Welcome to the Lucian Freud Exhibit,” but it’s crinkled and sagging in such a way that it looks more like “Welcome Lucian Freud.”

 

“Did you know he was really going to be here?” I turn and see Rigid Steve and Fiscal Steven, each dressed in period garb. “That’s him, over there,” says Rigid Steve, pointing across the room at a guy with his back turned to us, who looks like he may be a security guard. The Silent Professor, relaxing on his stool, does not follow their pointing finger, and I sort of envy his resolve, or his apathy.

 

“He’d dead,” I say, and then we all together look back at that security guard. Seeing how alive he looks from here, I begin to doubt the statement I’ve just made.

 

Describing their period garb, Rigid Steve tells me, “The first pictures from Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film Django Unchained, due out Christmas Day, were released this evening, so I dressed up as one of them. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. A ruthless, hammer-wielding plantation owner from the Old South. Who will stop at nothing.” I look at Fiscal Steven, expecting the explanation to continue. “He thought it was about Django Reinhardt,” explains Rigid Steve. “So that’s who he’s dressed as. Or something,” he adds, having clearly lost interest.

 

Near our stretch of wall, I spot what looks like John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, checking out one of the frog paintings. “How did you get all these Lucian Freud’s in here?” I ask Rigid Steve.

 

“A truck overturned near the overpass out on US 447, couple miles out of town. Driver didn’t survive. Some scavengers scooped ’em up, brought ’em here.”

 

“A Lucian Freud truck?”

 

“Fur coats,” says Rigid Steve.

 

“My mother remembers the days. Whenever a fur coat truck overturned outside of Dodge City, there’d be a huge glut of ’em here in town. All the ladies would go down to the stores and grab ’em up. Then, for weeks after, they’d all be wearing exactly the same coat. Whenever they went to town it’d be a whole scene, everyone arguing about whose day it was to wear it, you know?”

 

I leave Rigid Steve to tell the rest of his story on his own. Walking away, I try to picture an overturning truck full of actual Lucian Freud paintings. Then I look back at the paintings on the wall. The one nearest me, where John Darnielle was a few seconds ago, is of a pitcher of cream with some flies on a little island drinking coffee in its center.

 

I take out my iPhone from my back pocket, thinking to double check what Lucian Freud’s paintings actually look like, just to be completely certain that these aren’t them. I wait for the Wikipedia App to load, but it doesn’t. I look back at the painting of the flies on their island, then I look to the Silent Professor, who’s looking neither at me nor at the painting.

 

As a mindgame, I try to remember the last five US Presidents. I come up zero for five. Okay, the last four. At the end of this game, I find that I can’t even remember the current President. The only name I come up with is Lucian Freud. I look back at the security guard, standing in the corner. Then back up at the sagging banner.

 

That’s him, I think. I better go over there.

 

Just as I start making my way over, getting my questions ready, wiping the sweat from my palms on the sides of my pants, I see John Darnielle picking up his guitar from one of the benches near the basketball hoop at the far end of the gym, and I dash off after him instead, humming No Children as my theme song.

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The voice I heard down at the bottom of the Lamb Blood Pool turns out to have been nothing more than that of an emissary.

 

After it — this emissary, or intern, perhaps — has ushered me through the bottom and into a Room made entirely of Bone (ceiling, floor, walls, banquet table, a Bone toilet behind a Bone curtain in one corner, with a roll of Bone toilet paper nearly used up), it goes on its way, leaving me alone in here with the Silent Professor, about whom, as you know, so much has been written.

 

The room is entirely dry except for a cup of wine that sits by the Silent Professor’s right hand, near where his cufflink on that side scrapes the Bone tablecloth. He looks neither at the wine nor at me, and, for a moment, I can’t tell if I’m actually in here with him or not. I try to think of where else I might be, and then I have a thought that’s something like, “How long will I wait for his lecture to begin?” before realizing, of course, that his lecture is well underway, and probably has been longer than I’ve been in Dodge City.

 

I want to lie down on a couch or at least take a seat at the table, but there is only the one chair, in which the Silent Professor sits and lectures and, I would venture to guess, in which he’s been sitting and lecturing for quite some time.

 

So I take to pacing, smelling my Lamby forearms and the backs of my Lamby hands. I’m barefoot and the Bone floor feels a little like ice, if ice weren’t so cold, not that the floor is exactly warm.

 

The Silent Professor doesn’t follow me with his eyes, and doesn’t even seem to notice when I pass into his field of vision.

 

I start to imagine a pole or spike connecting my body to his, keeping us at a fixed distance, like a moon in orbit, and feel the pressure of this pole or spike in my middle gut.

 

A shudder comes from outside the room — construction work? — and a dusting of bone chips falls before my eyes and, thinking it’s snow, I again forget the floor isn’t ice.

 

Not when will the lecture begin, but, now, when will it end? is my question.

 

The Silent Professor shows no sign of ceasing, just as he’s never shown any sign of beginning. He won’t even look at his wine, or at his French cuffs and cufflinks. He isn’t interested in any of this, apparently.

 

I want to latch onto the lecture in some way — make it about Sherman’s March-to-the-Sea! I think. Make it about 16 Lovers Lane.

 

Make it about The Benjy Section.

 

But the Silent Professor does no such thing. Another rattle comes from outside the Room, and the sound of something being drilled in somewhere and, desperately, exhausted, I think to myself, “They’re setting up the Lucien Freud exhibit on the other side of the wall!” and I lie down on the smooth Bone floor and picture the exhibit going up and then picture walking through it, sipping that wine from the table, and eating a stack of Table Water Crackers, and I picture the paintings — most of them of people I know — and to my great relief, I realize this has been the Silent Professor’s theme all along.

 

He doesn’t look down to where I’m lying, but I know he sees me, just as I know he knows I can hear him even if he has never once, in his fabled university career, deigned to speak.

As the Night of the Funeral of Harry Crews wears on toward dawn, a number of us, spattered in offal and suet, end up at the Spa of the Lamb which has, not unwisely, extended its hours well past the usual 5 am closing time. As many of us as can fit through the doors push in. We throw our cash into a pile at the front desk and grab up towels — red, of course, either to hide the stains or having long since succumbed to them — and wait until the front desk attendant finishes counting our bills and buzzes us through.

 

Inside, we strip quickly naked (those of us who aren’t already) and, in unison, dive off the slippery tile floor and into the first, largest pool, full of the Lukewarm Blood of the Lamb. We bathe happily in here, diving deep under and then climbing back out, holding each other under almost to the point of drowning, in jest, and then helping each other back up to the surface, to gulp down deep, blood-scented throatfuls of air.

 

In a side concavity is the Scraping Room, where spa attendants speak Turkish with Azeri accents and scour our hides raw with the Bones of the Lamb, scraping off dead skin and, more often than not, layers of live skin as well. Then they coddle and pamper our cheeks and raw chests with the Tongues of the Lamb, at once docile and sandpapery, whispering sweet nothings when they pass our ears.

 

We drink fizzy, slightly salty water with whole lemons squeezed in, reclining on chez lounges, reflecting on the day and looking at our thighs and forearms where strips of our new tattoos hang on loosened sheafs of skin, soon to peel off and melt away, harmlessly back into the Blood like so many scabs.

 

We cool our feet in gray-mottled troughs stuffed amply with the Brains of the Lamb.

 

The effigy of Harry Crews, reduced at this point to little more than a lopsided, potbellied scarecrow, sits propped in one of the chaise lounges, icepack goggles stretched over his leering skull.

 

Big Pharmakos and Large, Creeping Charlie have reemerged from the fray, and now they’re here, discussing a spa scene at the end of Part III of you-know-what, where they end up castrating the wrong guy because of a pig suit, etc.

 

When I catch my breath and the dizzy thumping in my temples has subsided, I get up and, none too steadily, make my way toward the next room, where the Hot Blood bubbles in a much smaller, deeper pool. I’ve left my towel far behind, probably never to see it again. The air is so meaty it turns my stomach with equal parts hunger and revulsion.

 

Not looking to see if anyone else is already down under the Hot Blood (which looks almost black in the dim spa lighting), I tumble headfirst into the brew, a graceless and not fully intentional dive.

 

I plunge down and down as the Blood gets hotter, and the liquid heaves with what feels like the rhythm of the Actual Beating Heart of the Lamb, and then something happens.

 

But it’s not a traditional spa accident like breaking my neck on the hard tiled bottom.

 

It is, rather, an encounter with something down there, lost in the soup, unseen but strongly felt by my groping, manically pulsating wrists and fingers. There is something alive under here, and I want only to breathe before I try to talk to it, but, no, it’s already talking to me …

 

and is not about to let me back up before expecting my reply.

 

News of Harry Crews’ death hits Dodge City like — there’s nothing that it’s like. It’s an event whose singularity is — again, nothing. Let’s just say that if both Kennedy Bros. had been shot down for the first time this same week, the news wouldn’t have penetrated a single ear in Dodge City amidst the wailing and keening frenzy that the Death of Harry Crews has stirred in us. It’s something from dinosaur times, from the days when the Devil was young. Our grief and ecstasy manifests itself first in a free-for-all of spontaneous tattooing — anyone who has any ink and anything sharp begins, even before the obituary is printed, tattooing themselves with the most ragged and pre-Biblical script imaginable … words of praise and honor to Harry Crews upon their naked flesh, devotionally burning themselves with cigarettes and cutting themselves with parts of bottles and cans in the process.

I’m up in my room listening to some Vic Chesnutt and mourning in my own quiet way when my housemate Jerry comes in to say it’s time for the funeral. He asks if I want to shoot some steroids to get ready – “You know, ‘Body,’ and all, right? ‘Scar Lover.’ I mean, this is Harry Crews we’re going to see here … ” So I shoot some steroids with him, and then finish my coffe, and we go over in a pretty genial and hopped-up mood, as if it were Harry Crews alive and not dead that we were going to see.

Our other housemate, Chad, Who Disappears for 10-15 Minutes at a Time, isn’t around right now. Maybe he’ll meet us there.

The streets are seething as we make our way out, our hearts pounding like fists in our ears, our T-shirts tight with sweat and weird patches of muscle bulging out hard in various parts of our backs and sides, like armor for our gut organs.

It’s a rapturous sunny summer day, verging on the desert-like. “Buzzards circle high” etc … We can already smell and hear the snakes that’ve been prepared. Some teenagers lurch past behind us, shirtless in loose pantaloons, vodka bottles sticking out of their waist-sashes like an array of canteens at the start of a long foot-journey. “When did you first read ‘A Feast of Snakes’?” one asks the other. “My second month in the womb,” he answers, and they both cheer like this is a practiced call-and-response.

And, in fact, it is. As we keep walking, we hear this question going back and forth all over behind and beside us. Everyone is chanting this same refrain, building group energy as we converge on the town square for the main event. “When did you first read ‘A Feast of Snakes’?” Jerry asks me, partaking in the hysteria, whether ironically or not I can’t tell. I almost say, “When I was twenty-five,” which is the truth, but I’m afraid he may be so far gone by this point that he’d throttle me for blasphemy, so I respond, under my breath, “My second month in the womb.”

Now the throng is so deep we can’t push any further in. The whole town is here, and everyone is huge on steroids, so it’s like two towns are crowded into a town square meant for one. To my right I  can see five or six guys eating a car, their mouths raw and bloody with metal and beads of shatter-proof glass, a line of mostly-naked cheerleaders dancing and whooping beside them.

A man on fire dances on the other sideline until he meets another man on fire, and they collapse, amidst cheering, into a single burning mass.

Up ahead (we have to crane way over the necks of the people standing in front of us) we can see a cement pyramid on the other side of the moat of snakes, so full that some rattlers and copperheads are leaping out and biting the cheering people in the front lines. Trailers are parked all along the edges of the square, people bench-pressing weights on rickety homemade benches, pounding beers, throwing footballs, and reverentially gut-stabbing one another.

Atop the pyramid stands a figure in a gold facemask that tapers to a sharp birdlike beak. The sun glints blindingly off its surface so that we can’t look the high priest directly in the eyes — an old Aztec tradition I believe, unless it was either Mayan or entirely made-up. I am suddenly 100% certain that the high priest under the mask is Professor Dalton, but I don’t share this with anyone.

He’s shouting into the sunlight but it’s like the glint off the mask is obscuring his voice as well. I can only hear it grating on my ears, can’t make out any of what he’s saying. Then a cry goes up from the crowd: “Today, Dodge City is Mystic, Georgia!!” they shriek, and, a moment later, “Today, Dodge City is Celebration, Florida!!” Someone jabs me with a needle just under my right ear, and I start chanting and cheering as well.

“Who will be the first sacrifice?” shouts Dalton-under-the-mask. I expect him to pull a curved, jewel-hilted saber from his robes, but he just stands back with his arms up high as hundreds upon hundreds of devotees dive into the snake pit.

As they fall, the rest of us push closer in, right up to the edge, to watch as the snakes peel their meat off them, and then start pouring through their skeletons, which dry almost immediately in the relentless Geogia/Florida sun. I stand as close as I can and watch snakes thread in one eye socket and out another, looking for any last leavings, and then, eventually, fall to eating snake.

A solemn hum comes up from the remaining crowd and, in this sound, I realize how substantially thinned our numbers are. I estimate that at least half of Dodge City has just sacrificed itself.

When the snakes are reduced to a couple of gorged blobs, Dalton raises his hands to halt the hum. “Today is a day that will live forever in … ” and then he cuts himself short with a cackle. “Who am I kidding? Harry Crews wants you to drink until you vomit bile and shards of liver, and then beat the living fuck out of one another!”

Another cheer goes up from the crowd as Dalton disappears into the arms of his bodyguards.

I can tell how the rest of the day will be spent.