Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Shaken from the encounter with Gottfried Benn, and broke after he took my three twenties, I’m skulking around near the center of town, kicking litter, looking at some of what sticks to the toes of my sneakers, when Fiscal Steven walks by, dangling a rental car key from his outstretched index finger, his thumb way up in the air like he’s miming a gun. I’ve never seen him without Rigid Steve by his side, and, as far as I know, I’ve never seen his hand before.

 

This thought leads to thoughts about local duos more generally, and then he’s upon me, having already begun explaining something whose beginnings I’ve missed.

 

” … and so I have my hands full getting everything ready. Putting the books in order, etc. He’ll have questions that I’ll want to have answers ready for, if you know what I’m saying. It’ll take you something like half an hour, tops. I’ll pay you, let’s see” — fumbling through his wallet — “sixty bucks?” I picture Gottfried Benn coming back, which I am certain he sooner or later will, so, thinking maybe a drive would do me well anyway, I accept.

 

“Where’s the car?” I ask, as Fiscal Steven hands me the key.

 

“Fuck should I know?” he replies, with a half smile, turning away. “When you see Industry Ed,” he calls, a hundred feet away by now. I stop paying attention before catching the rest of that phrase.

 

I scope out a few cars, holding the key up near them as if the grooves on the metal and the shape of the car might somehow correspond to one another in a way visible to the naked eye, and then I read the license plate number printed on the rental car keychain, and get in the car that has that number on its actual plates, parked nearby. “It’s some kind of Jetta,” as the ads used to say.

 

Driving toward the onramp to the highway, following signs for the airport.

 

I pass some kids and junkies and dogs huddled up at one of the bus stops, frozen in place into a kind of folkloric tableau, like they’re made of wood, posed behind a hand-painted sign reading “Gepetto’s Workshop, Open to Visitors TH 11-2.”

 

As I drive, I think, “It’s doing me well to take a drive.” Then I’m at the airport, drinking a Douwe Egberts, watching the luggage spill onto the carousel, empathizing with the people whose luggage will surely not arrive.

 

I’m holding a sign that reads “Industry Ed + Carla Ropes,” which I found propped in the backseat of the car.

 

In this condition, a giant red-faced, mustachioed man in khakis and a woman in a blue pantsuit wearing a straw hat come my way, and nod at my sign. Since I can’t read it where I stand, I’ve forgotten what it says. I just nod back, and feel the airport receding and a dream of an airport coming closer. I try to warn it back.

 

Industry Ed holds his hand out to mine, and I reach out to his, despite an instinct that, a moment from now, I will wish I’d listened to. When our hands make contact I feel a coldness and a sharpness coursing from fingertips to wrist, spreading apart my fingers like breaking up shrimp frozen in a block. I growl, but Industry Ed is talking loud enough to drown me out. “Little trick I learned on my travels,” he says, I suppose amicably. And then comes the first laugh.

 

My hand is turning yellow and foamy, and then the yellow starts to bleed out, leaving a grayish clearness in its place. I can see the bones now, black-looking and veiny. The fingers have swollen in circumference and shrunken in length, so that their overall mass may have been conserved. It feels like some joke store modeling spray has been sprayed all over where my hand used to be, wires jammed up and down, front to back, to hold the goop in place.

 

“What’s your name anyways, son?” asks Industry Ed. “Dead Hand?” He laughs so loud that others in the luggage area turn to look, and Carla Ropes rolls her eyes in a wide loop. I see that I’ve spilled my Douwe Egberts, and someone is now mopping it up.

 

Both of them seem put off that I haven’t offered to take their luggage, but I just swallow several times and think of a dream I had once where I picked up Lars von Trier at the airport during a blizzard and then drove him and his whole entourage into a snowbank, and we were only rescued when someone pointed out that von Trier never ever flies, so the whole thing became, suddenly and thankfully, moot.

 

Now I’m driving with Industry Ed up front and Carla Ropes in the back, looking through some files from her briefcase. I notice that there are giant “Welcome Home Industry Ed!” signs all along the highway leading into town. “Every town thinks I’m from there,” he chuckles, watching with amusement as I try to drive with my dead hand. “What do you do for fun in this town, Dead Hand?”

 

I’m imagining the story I’ll tell to the people I know, of how I went to meet him at the airport and he killed my hand.

 

But it doesn’t happen like this.

 

I spend most of the night with him in the various bars and taverns of Dodge City. Each time, to growing audiences, he tells the story of how he went to meet me at the airport and, when I arrived, he witnessed the disaster that had befallen my hand on my travels.

 

“Poor Dead Hand,” he says, shaking his head, “something weird clearly happened to him out there. Let’s show him how we take care of the afflicted here in Dodge City!!”

 

Rounds of toasts compound one another. “Welcome to Dodge City, Dead Hand!” they chant, none louder than Industry Ed, a native son if ever there was one.

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A stupor of uncertain duration seems to have ensued after the John Darnielle / Craig Finn scene — it’s gotten to be Friday now, with Thursday dead and gone or snipped wholesale from the week. A dust storm has come upon Dodge City. The Arkansas River has become a dimness of deeper dust across the shallow plain, all eddying motes and lotto tickets and breath-browned cigarette butts.

 

We’re all walking along it, heads hung low. There are pilgrim figures on both sides of me, going at about my speed. We’re all heading toward breakfast — second breakfast, I suppose, if you count the breakfast in the house with Craig Finn, but that may well have been over a week ago, so the Breakfast Ticker has likely returned to zero.

 

Craig Finn and John Darnielle are mixed into this specter parade, but they’re growing dimmer and less distinct. Soon they’ll blend fully back into the unremarkable and unremarked-upon general populace of the town, back into the mixing bowl from which characters, such as they are, are whipped up.

 

A gout of dust hits me full on and I stumble over something taut and cylindrical near the ground. After grinding the dust away from my eyes, I look down and see it to be a thick (and dusty) power cord. I run my fingers along its casing, trying to fathom it.

 

As I’m trying to fathom the cord, Big Pharmakos appears from the dust beside me. He looks a little off, like he hasn’t been fully reconstituted after a term in confinement, but I know it’s him. He can tell that I want to know about this cord so he says, in an M. Ward dust-rasp, “It’s for circuses, when they come thru. We got lots of inanimates, round this part of the country. Inanimate Circuses, you know. It’s so they can plug themselves in, get some juice. They plug it into their generator or whatever, come to life. Do their song and dance for us, unplug, go inanimate again, move on.”

 

With those two words — Move and On — the dusty pilgrimage scene ends and we’re all in a diner, breakfast being served all around. It’s a festive scene, everyone taking turns in the bathroom, washing off the grey dust that turns black with water as it swirls down the drain. There’s a high spirit of refreshment, or a spirit of high refreshment, all about in the air in this diner, everyone tucking into plates of pancakes and French Toast garnished with powdered sugar and orange wedges, the coffee hot, oily, plentiful.

 

Voices rise, everyone telling everyone about the confusions of the past period, a happy sense of waking up, collectively, or coming down from or off of something that’d had us in its grips for a good while.

 

Under cover of all this comes a cloaked figure. I am the last notice.

 

The diner door’s bell clanks as it closes behind him, and cool quiet and then cold silence falls over the place. Waitresses stop where they stand, holding their trays afloat, and the sizzling eggs on the griddle seize up. I think of that power cord, imagine its having been suddenly yanked out.

 

People start tactfully but efficaciously leaving as the figure makes its slow way into the diner’s main interior. When he turns in my direction, I see it’s Gottfried Benn.

 

He looks similar to how a Google Images search of Gottfried Benn (https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&hl=en&source=hp&biw=1440&bih=670&q=gottfried+benn&gbv=2&oq=gottfried+benn&aq=f&aqi=g1g-S9&aql=&gs_l=img.3..0j0i24l9.554.4817.0.5033.20.12.4.4.4.1.91.792.12.12.0…0.0.X4b-RvTysmU#q=gottfried+benn&hl=en&gbv=2&tbm=isch&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=1&biw=1152&bih=536) would make you think he’d look.

 

He turns toward me and I can feel the last remnants of whatever mirth I’d had a few moments ago seeping out my fingertips and through the pores of my neck, like a collar of sweat.

 

As he gets close to my table, the hairs lining my spine standing up so straight that they almost break free from my skin and rain down my back to cling to my belt, an old-timer one table over (one of the few who’s still here), leans over the book divider and whispers, “It’s Gottfried Benn, son,” as if I didn’t know. “You have $60? He won’t back off for anything less. Things take a steep, steep downward turn when he shows up, let me tell you.” The old-timer sounds like he’d know and like, in fact, he does know.

 

Just as Gottfried Benn gets to the edge of my table, his eyes narrowing, I reach into my wallet and, to my tremendous relief, find three 20s in there, like they’d been planted for this express purpose. I pull them out and press them into his styrofoamy hand.

 

A moment of hesitation, then he turns, shuffles in his cloak up to the cash register, and asks for change for one of those 20s. With trembling hands, trying to avert her gaze from his, the cashier gives it to him, and he leaves the diner, picking up a free newspaper by the door on his way out.

 

The air stays frozen. The old-timer leans across the booth again and whispers, “Don’t get to thinking you won’t see him again, son. You will.”

 

I follow John Darnielle out of the high school gym, away from the Lucian Freud Exhibit. “So that was Exhibit A,” I think, and tell the reptile parts of myself that need to be told and don’t know automatically through thinking alone. Just so we’re all on the same page. “On to Exhibit B,” I think-then-say. John Darnielle gains speed as we cross the parking lot, his guitar slung over his shoulder in a stage-moves kind of way, even as he runs down the Dodge City streets, his signature glasses fixed firm on his face.

 

He’s already humming, almost involuntarily, like a downed power line. I can hear him clearly in the summer night air, and it’s just as I’d hoped: New Material. “The Mountain Goats return,” I think, and then I say it aloud in my movie trailer announcer voice, so people will know what Exhibit B consists of.

 

I chase him around a few corners, away from the center and toward one part of the outskirts. I remember the street we’re on now, though I haven’t set foot on it since probably November. I can hear him humming more New Material, and I listen as well as I can, keeping my distance as a pursuer.

 

Let me tell you: I’m liking what I hear.

 

Finally, John Darnielle stops in front of a house, turns to look at me, and then turns back toward the house and goes inside. I get near, and see that it’s a house I’ve seen recently in a dream. A house halfway between house and prairie-style covered wagon, with a lip or pane of hanging Tyvek house wrap serving as both front wall and door. It was a summer romance dream and I kissed someone’s sister in a 1950s sort of way on the dusty street in front of this house (it was even more of a covered wagon back then), and then her brother came out in his undershirt and baseball cap and she went in.

 

The brother made his front two knuckles into a special kind of fist and smashed me hard on the forehead with a single sharp downward  stroke, cutting me in such a way that a cross of blood trickled down from my hairline to my eyebrows, and horizontally spanned the distance between one eye and the next. It became a tattoo before I had a chance to wipe it off.

 

Goddammit. I just wasted precious time going back over a goddam dream. Nothing gained there. I rub the tattoo on my forehead and think about old Mountain Goats songs (“old songs from nowhere … Los Angeles, Albuquerque … “) I could go on and on, but it’s the New Ones I came out for tonight.

 

I push through the house-wagon’s plastic pane and am inside, smelling the sawdust and hardtack etc etc.

 

I run through the living room and into the kitchen, where food has been left out on the counters and the sink is running and the refrigerator door is open. I see flashes of John Darnielle, so fast I can’t see all of him at once.

 

I follow, picking up the pace.

 

He runs up the stairs, into a child’s bedroom with illuminated globe nightlights, and slams the door in my face. I hear him pushing a couch or a bed against the door, and then quiet. Then he starts strumming, and then singing. He’s clearly trying to be as quiet as possible, but still I can hear him singing though his New Material.

 

I want to shout, “I can hear you in there!” but I don’t, for one reason or another.

 

When I finally succeed in kicking in the door, I stumble over the wreckage of everything he’s pushed up against it only to find him gone. Looks like he leapt through a hole in the wall, and is onto another room. I wish I had a sharp object in one hand, just for form’s sake.

 

I chase him all around this floor and up flight after flight of stairs, putting my door up to each new room he blockades himself inside of, listening to as much New Material as I possibly can. His desperation to play it and not be heard, and my desperation to hear, would seem to be a fair and even match for one another.

 

We go up and up, climbing ladders and ropes and ramps, he always a few steps ahead of me, singing through a New verse or chorus whenever he can, whenever he thinks there’s a chance I’m out of earshot. Without exaggerating, I can report that this is “New Chevrolet in Flames” grade Material here.

 

This might have gone on forever had I not become aware of a THIRD PRESENCE in the house.

 

John Darnielle ducks off into yet another room, shoves yet another couch against the door, and starts in on still more New Material.

 

But this time, as I start on the now-familiar task of kicking in the door, a hand grabs and holds my shoulder. I try to turn, but it has me in The Sleeper Hold. When I finally come to, I’m in a bright solarium on the very top floor, sitting at a low table by a bay window, face-to-face with the THIRD PRESENCE.

 

It’s Craig Finn.

 

He looks at the blood tattoo on my forehead. “I wore a cross to ward ’em off,” I explain. He winces. I go on, “I was seeing double for three straight days after I got born again; it felt strange but it was nice and peaceful and it really pleased me to be around so many people … of course half of them were visions, and half were just friends from … ”

 

He holds up his hand for me to stop. I can see sunlight through his Stigmata. I nod. “I won’t quote your songs to you anymore,” I solemnly promise, but I know it won’t last.

 

We go to the window and look out together. It appears to be a Vision of a 17th century Scandinavian village, and we’re no more than three stories off the ground, even after all that climbing. “Don’t it all end up in some Revelation, with four guys on horses and … ”

 

“Ever seen the bishop part of Fanny & Alexander?” asks Craig Finn, cutting me off before I quote him anymore, and I say I have, and we talk about that for a while, until the Vision abates, and then we have breakfast. “And when we hit the Twin Cities, I didn’t know that much about it … I knew Profane Existence and … ” I quote, as quietly as I can, into my cereal spoon, praying he doesn’t hear me, unable to help myself.