Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Weeks of bobbing in transit. Curled up in a pod, hot and harshly cleaned, like a train seat or an incubator, some place where I’m growing, bigger or into something a little new.

 

 

We yawn against windowpanes and paw through magazine material, ripping out the pages like shucking vegetables, but there’s nothing to eat but more crackers and nuts at the end of it all.

 

“Maybe it’s getting to be time to catch a flight,” says Big Pharmakos. “Back to Dodge City. I’d say we might otherwise be about to find ourselves going, as they say, nowhere.

 

So we do. We take off from some English factory town and now we’re airborne, acting like we’ve just spent a whole epoch immersed in The Wicker Man, holed up off the coast of Scotland, seen a man burned for the glory of Island Noir, and now we’re heading home with heads full of New Material.

 

“Look at the Atlantic, far below,” coos Big Pharmakos, and, sure enough, I guess, there it is, out the window, 30,000 feet below.

 

We rip through more magazines, and eat more nuts and crackers, and then the plane starts going down

 

and the ocean starts coming up.

 

We plummet, tipping into a nosedive.

 

The pilot comes on the intercom and says, in a calm childy voice, that he’s “sorry ladies and gentlemen, but it’s been brought to my attention that I am at present too depressed to continue flying this plane. I’m going to land us before things get really bad.”

 

He does. We glide to a smooth halt on the ocean, and, almost immediately after turning off the engine, he zips away in a lifeboat and is gone, wearing a hat that completely obscures his head.

 

The rest of us hang out in the landed plane, looking toothily at one another, calculating how long until someone takes the first bite, probably just a shoulder or forearm at first, but then …

 

a fleet of lifeboats comes for us. We get in, and they disperse in dramatically different directions.

 

********

 

“All we ever do lately is sit around and talk about Astral Weeks,” moans Big Pharmakos a few days later, a hazy coastline at last coming into view.

 

I don’t answer. I’m wondering about accommodation, a bath and a bed and fire escape instructions on the back of a dead-bolted wood-paneled door, you know. The city gets astonishingly bigger and brighter than I’d expected it to get, doing that ocean thing where you think you’re close to land way, way before you’re anything like close.

 

But now we’re here. The boat spills us out. By this point it looks like we’re the only ones aside from the driver. Perhaps the others drowned or expired along the way, or there weren’t any, and now the driver’s gone too.

 

A row of Motel 6’s, side-by-side, flanks the harbor, arranged in a jagged skyline whereby some are taller and grander than the others, like relics from an occupation or previous dynasty, a little like The Bund in Shanghai but, like I say, they’re all Motel 6’s with nothing in between or, we soon see, behind.

 

We walk the streets like sailors on shore leave, trying to determine how best to spend our speck of time and money before consignment to life at sea begins anew, as if it hasn’t yet been long enough.

 

We walk down alleys of Motel 6’s and up hills of them, through flatlands and ghettoes and suburbs, a factory quarter and what looks like a prison quarter, churches, a zoo, Motel 6’s one and all, through a night fraught with humidity and insects. All the Motel 6 signs show different prices, some with HBO and WiFi and Continental Breakfast and even a Heated Pool, and others without.

 

People shuffle from one Motel 6 to another, heads down, hurrying like they’re afraid of or late for something.

 

Cars are parked in poor or odd parallel jobs along the curbs, and buses rush by, stirring up puddles.

 

“Kind of corny,” mutters Big Pharmakos, gesturing at the buses’ destination marquees, which read CITY OF SUPER 8’S.

 

I laugh, then look at my feet and a puddle as I yawn, then look back up at a new passing bus. Now its marquee seems to read CITY COLLAPSE, but I can tell that Big Pharmakos still sees it as CITY OF SUPER 8’S.

 

This ever so slightly cools my good vibe.

 

“Let’s get in one of them,” I say, recognizing the way I feel now as the feeling of being watched by people in ground floor windows.

 

“Where should we stay?” replies Big Pharmakos. The joke, if it is one, does not remain long in the air.

 

“Let’s walk from one to another and compare prices,” I say.

 

Big Pharmakos hesitates, sweeping the row of signs, then turns and says, “No. I’ve been here before, I think. I think I know someone we can stay with.”

 

He starts walking up the street. I run into the nearest Motel 6 and book a room, get inside, dead-bold the door, and peel back the blinds to watch him walking, still not out of sight, apparently unaware that I’m no longer walking with him —

 

and then something I can’t explain happens and I’m no longer sure if I’m in the room looking out or on the street looking in, or if perhaps several days have passed, during which a great number of things, all unrememberable, have happened to or because of me, or, time perched right now like a canoe atop The Falls, are about to.

After The Returned Recluse’s Interruption of Dalton’s Lecture (itself, I’m sure, soon to be canonized as a town holiday, commemorated by a pageant of some sort, if it hasn’t been already, indeed, if tonight wasn’t itself the pageant, with the original event either purely hypothetical or centuries or millennia old), occupied by the question of “What is Island Noir?”, Big Pharmakos and I end up in a midnite movie screening that must have been arranged precisely to answer our question:

 

So what is Island Noir? Well, The Wicker Man is a good answer, that’s for sure.

 

For the first hour+ of the film, Big Pharmakos and I are bored out of our minds. And then something changes, abruptly, and we’re something else out of our minds — not scared out of our minds, per se, or maybe we are, or something close to that. Whatever we are, we’re not in our minds by any stretch.

 

In the period following the ending of the film, we and the other visitors in the theater (there are only a few, clumped among the seats, which are laid out like pews or are pews) stand speechless.

 

 

We’ve all just collectively witnessed the awful spectacle of a guy “Keeping his Appointment with The Wicker Man.”

 

After the others have gone but before the lights come up, that Scottish sun setting malevolently over the sea and the end credits, we rummage up the makings of a plan.

 

“What is it?” I ask Big Pharmakos.

 

“Well,” he begins, “I think we need to go there.”

 

I know where he means but, sensing some need for it to be asked, I ask, “Where?”

 

“To the island,” he responds, “To Summerisle. To Keep our Appointments with The Wicker Man.”

 

I shiver at the thought of the cold sea journey, and the cold of arrival.

 

“I sense,” he continues, as the theater lights come up, “a kinship between us and that place. I believe that Summerisle may be The Pagan Dodge City. Every city has its Pagan Analogue,” he explains. “Every Christian city, at any rate, just like every Christian book. Dalton once, for example, spent many years attempting to write The Pagan Ulysses, until it was convincingly demonstrated to him that Ulysses is its own Pagan Analogue. At least that’s how he justified quitting the project. Perhaps he simply didn’t have what it took. In any case … ”

 

“Summerisle won’t,” he picks up, a moment later, “look any different from Dodge City, but it will be. It will do us good to go there. It will help us gain perspective on the coming of the Night Crusher, not to mention the Fingerprint Man, who’s also … ” here he trails off again, and I get the feeling he’s afraid he may have said too much.

 

We find the theater proprietor and explain that we’d like to book ship passage to the island depicted in the film, and he sighs, muttering something to the effect of, “I was just locking up … ” but then he reopens the cash register and we talk rates.

 

********

 

… in our bunks, a cold salt wind lacing itself through our skin, etc etc, and we’re pulling blankets tight around ourselves and trying to cushion our heads on our inner upper arms, while a storm rocks us into and our of sleep and Talk Talk’s “Ascension Day” plays dimly on repeat in the background, to set the mood or just because the captain or whomever has left it playing dimly on repeat, in the background.

 

Finally asleep, I hear an awful crack, the sound of something tearing itself into being, and, though I can see nothing, I know that the Fingerprint Man is here, watching me sleep, watching me dream of him watching me.

 

My spine seizes up and my skin goes tight and dries into bad suede and my tongue swells to fill my whole mouth and throat, and stomach too, feels like, and then I jolt awake, and see nothing at all.

 

I lie in a space whose features I can’t make out, trying to wipe my face and forehead but finding my arms unresponsive, hiding in some impregnable nerve bunker.

 

All the meat of my sides and gut is shot through with this queasy dream terror, the kind you can taste in wrong-slaughtered beef. I’ll have to excrete it slowly, I think, up from my pores a drop at a time, with each breath, until I deflate enough to breathe actual air again.

 

I picture myself like a squid swollen with black ink, trying to seethe it out onto a white mattress until the whole thing is stained through and I’m drained to a pale jelly, and then the rest of this passage will pass, and I’ll either alight eventually in Summerisle, The Pagan Dodge City, or I won’t, and, either way, in a few weeks’ time, I’ll rally and make my next report.

By now we’re all pretty well settled into on our annual daylong Dalton Noir lecture event in the Community Gathering Space of the Dodge City Public Access TV Station. After the usual pedantic opening remarks, in which he reminded us of the many salient reasons why we’re gathered here today to witness his Notes to Noir and not, for the love of God, Notes on Noir (Dear Dalton: by this point we get it, or at least get that we don’t get it and aren’t losing any sleep), the talk began in earnest.

 

“And that’s why noir is good for the people,” said Dalton, a number of glints playing across his eyes like dappling light in a rocky stream. Actually, it’s just my sunglasses. I nudge them up my nose to check, see that without them all does indeed look different, undappled, then I nudge them back down, to be in line with the general sunglass requirement, or expectation anyway, of the day’s theme.

 

Not that it’s a costume party.

 

There’s a papier-mache effigy of a dark and brooding figure, cloaked in mystery though technically naked, sitting on a folding chair just beside Dalton on the dais, representing noir, or The Roving Carnivorous Angel of Noir, as Dalton puts it. It’s more of a pygmy head-shrinking, or head-shrunk, looking sort of figure to my eye, rather than anyone whose being smacks, to me, of an essential roving noir aspect deep in the viscera, but what do I know. I usually start off the day staring the figure down (I say “usually” here just for fun, since this is, technically speaking, still my first year in Dodge City, though it sure doesn’t feel like it), and end it … well, who knows.

 

Dalton has burned off the morning hours, as he always does, talking about Jim Thompson and Robert Coover, whom none of us has read, reminding us, incessantly, of how, because we are none of us rank (one has a goddamn right to hope, by this point) beginners, he’s not going to tax his wad taking us wading in the kiddie pools of Chandler nor Hammett nor Highsmith nor Ellroy nor nor nor nor … NOIR!

 

The NOIR! horn, routed through a big guitar amp, has been going off with ever-greater frequency as evening comes down the ‘pike, and the drinks, which’ve been flowing freely since just after dawn, continue to do just that. Indeed, they resemble not a leaking but a gushing faucet.

 

I’m sloshed in with the crowd, tipping back and forth on a folding chair.

 

We all clap wantonly throughout the Professor’s talk, more so now than earlier since the NOIR! horn has been going off more, as befits the shape of the day’s festivities, held once a  year, in whichever season best suits the larger scheme of Dalton’s affairs.

 

A few interns from the high school run logistics – one helps Dalton with his mic and moderates a little, like if Dalton needs a passage read aloud in a funny voice or anything cued up or any rhetorical questions asked; another runs the camera and handles the broadcast; and a third – our favorite – operates the NOIR! horn, slamming it down hard whenever in the course of the lecture feels appropriate (almost all the time), and, whenever it goes off, we all take a big long drink, refill if necessary, and go on. Yet another high schooler – name of Squint – operates the drinks table, lavishly laid out with a little help from a mayoral discretionary fund.

 

I’m sitting next to Big Pharmakos, who has plastic bags full of clear liquor taped all up and down his body, and a very long, sharp straw with which, on one end, he punctures their hides and, on the other, sucks. “I am draining myself dry,” I imagine him saying, though I don’t believe he has actually said this as of yet.

 

It’s Dalton’s job to keep talking throughout all of our interpretive measures, rolling his eyes if necessary, but not clamming up on his pace. You can see his fingers, crab-like, gripping hard onto the fat frayed edges of his Coover volumes, bearing down sharp enough to tear perforations, so the pages come to look like film strips on one side, I’d imagine or have been told.

 

He makes a late-in-the-game switch to what he calls Exegetic Migratory Patterns in the “Casual Buffet Noir” of Laird Hunt. The NOIR! horn goes crazy. Nobody wants a brand new topic this late in the day. Squint, manning the bar, can barely keep up with the droves coming his way.

 

****

 

By the time the surprise visitor entered, or stood up from the crowd where he’d been hiding, it’d become a vast and manic spectacle, bigger-feeling than the actual size of the space it’s occurring in (unless it really is occurring elsewhere as well, and this just the tip of some iceberg).

 

Big Pharmakos jabbed me with his sharp straw as the surprise visitor lumbered up to the dais. He leaned in to whisper something that, due to all the shouting and commotion that rose up just then, I didn’t catch.

 

When I looked back at the dais, upon which Dalton and the papier-mache Angel were propped, I saw a third figure, a very old man in a fur-lined suede jacket with a wooly skiing cap pulled down low over his eyes, and layers and layers of wool and flannel encasing him under that. He walked not with a cane but with two antique-looking crutches, wooden, polished, and buffed, with leather straps hanging off here and there.

 

Dalton attempted to go on with his by-now-nearly-fully-unraveled lecture, but everyone knows how poorly he takes to being interrupted. Soon, we knew, his spirit would be far from his body, out walking in more pacific climes, gathering evidence for some entirely new case, having left the Question of Noir to twist and flicker in the wind of an earlier age.

 

Big Pharmakos leaned in toward me again, punctured bags leaking all over his body like he’d been stabbed.

 

He made an expression that induced me to lean in and listen, flexing my ears so as to cut through the room’s dinging melee. “That’s Norman Morrison,” he rasped. “Former 10th grade history teacher at the high school. Used to call him Normal Morrison. Went into reclusion years ago, like years years ago. No one’s heard from him in all that time, though rumors have circulated as to his not being dead, ‘nor even gone,’ as they say. A guard at the grocery store once claimed to have seen him shucking walnuts in the canned goods section at three in the morning on the security camera feed, but the footage wasn’t recorded and the guard himself retracted his story, under, some have claimed, significant duress, by noon the next day. Normal was senile before he even left, and look at him now.”

 

We look up at the dais. Dalton’s spirit has vanished. Its body is a crumpled tarp, tan with skin remnants.

 

Morrison sits beside it. He’s arranged the Noir Angel like a dummy beside him, and clipped Dalton’s mic, which had been buzzing pitiably, onto his fibrous lapel.

 

“They … this thing on?” Morrison smiles and tilts his eyes, peering through the narrow slit over his beard and under his cap. Then bursts into laughter. “Just having a little fun with you all! I know it’s on!” he tips the dummy back and forth on his knee, slapping its back with his palm. A cloud of paper dust rises into the air, and settles into Morrison’s beard and eyebrows.

 

The high schoolers hover above their respective buttons.

 

“They have said … you, perhaps, have said, that I disappeared. That I was gone for good.” His eyes drink in the crowd’s mixed reaction to his appearance and grow visibly drunker on it. Someone stands up to leave or open a window, then sits back down without going anywhere.

 

“Well, I’m here to tell you that I did not. I’m here to tell you that, well, here I am.” He pauses, sweeping Dalton’s books onto the floor.

 

“Just give me a second to arrange my notes here,” he coughs, emptying a number of sugar packets onto a sheet of lined paper that he’d pulled from his jacket and tried to smooth out on the desk in front of him.

 

He starts agitating the piles of sugar with his fingertips, tapping each pile once, and then leans back to read the result. “This is how I write now,” he explains. “And thus how I read.”

 

He touches another pile, waits for the sugar crystals to scatter, then reads the new configuration aloud. “Ah yes,” he says, “That reminds me. I almost forgot to tell you all about the Island Horde.”

 

The room crackles louder, closer to action. Some audience member heads topple sideways and jerk back upright, burping loud and ether-smelling.

 

“In my years away, I traveled far to the south, and to the east, out on the water, under other skies.”

 

“That man hasn’t left his house in longer than any of us has been alive,” mumbles Big Pharmakos in my ear, his voice mealy like he’s trying to convince himself.

 

“My journey took me,” Morrison continues, narrowing his eyes in what looks like Big Pharmakos’ exact direction, “to the island of the Island Horde, where,” he picks up the pygmy, “this good fellow became my lieutenant in what was to be an historic takeover.”

 

He and the doll both toggle their heads in affirmation. He rifles through his person until he finds more sugar packets, then empties them in the same way as before:

 

“After many years of hard struggle, gladly committing the unthinkable, I, or I should say ‘we,’ succeeded in conquering the entire province of the Island Horde, and now I, or, again, ‘we’,’ stand before you happy to report that I am, or We are, if you like, Kings of the Island Horde.”

 

Another crackle in the crowd, and then someone shouts, “Kings of the Island what?”

 

The high schooler above the button doesn’t miss his cue. He slams down hard, so that Morrison’s answer comes out, “Kings of Island NOIR!”

 

The crowd goes wild. Squint gets right down to pouring drinks.

 

The horn keeps going, drowning out the rest of Morrison’s speech. The room resounds with NOIR! NOIR! NOIR! in constant rhythm, as Dalton’s spilled Thompson and Coover volumes float by in a puddle-layer like a Lazy River at an amusement park.

 

This is how the day ends. Dalton’s deflated tarp-like carapace has been, I imagine, folded neatly and stored in a back room, tied with a bungee cord.

 

Big Pharmakos and I leave together, squeezing through the frantic bottleneck of the doorway, and out onto the eventually quiet streets, laughing at the difficulty of a thing like using one’s feet to stand.

 

Once it gets quieter I begin to play back over the image of Morrison and the papier-mache pygmy, his lieutenant, speaking as one. Then I get to thinking about Island Noir, trying to picture it, or at least to feel its more prominent contours.

 

“What’s that?” asks Big Pharmakos, snapping awake in mid stride.

 

“Island Noir,” I reply, wondering how many times I’ve repeated this phrase so far tonight.