Archives for the month of: September, 2012

After time and the allure of the new have finished intervening to get me out of that interpolated nightmare sequence, out of which there was really probably no other way out, I find myself back in Dodge City proper, on the sidewalk just outside the hotel where my titular Room is, or was and may still be.

 

I ask myself, “Why have I been standing here so long?” and the answer, when it comes, is that I’m in a line, roped off with velvet, and a bouncer at the head, this guy named Murray that I know from around.

 

When I get up to Murray I show him my ID and he nods and stands aside and in I go, up to Will Call where I explain that I’m just trying to get past all this and up to my Room and they nod and hand me a ticket, and an usher comes over and manhandles me into the theater and jams me down into a seat like otherwise I wouldn’t fit into it.

 

The interior is done up in garish 1850’s Parisian playhouse style, like something out of Nerval. Once I’ve taken this in, sweeping the crowd in the dark, I look up on stage and see Big Pharmakos doing his stand-up routine. The audience falls out of its seats whenever he hits a punchline, falling sideways into the aisles in slo-mo like he’s hit some cell phone operated detonator and blown the whole place to pieces.

 

“No, no, no, but really,” he says, wiping sweat with his sleeve and hanging back on his heels, shoulders loose and rangy like a boxer’s, “seriously, guys, the thing that really gets me is.” And everyone climbs back into their seats, ready to be blown away again.

 

“So, this one time, I was in one of those, what do you call ’em, like a … ” he starts, letting them simmer down, pacing the stage, fingering the detonator, wrapping his hand almost all the way around the head of the mic, foreskin-style.

 

After the audience has flown into the aisle again in that same slo-mo, and again picked themselves up and back into their seats, I settle into a spectating rhythm, impressed with Big Pharmakos’ progress in the realm of stand-up comedy since last I saw him, in the empty hotel convention room at some weird hour of the early morning.

 

THEN something else happens: Big Pharmakos sits down in the empty seat beside me, fuming.

 

“You fucking believe this?” he fumes in my direction.

 

I pause here, trying to relax before leaping to conclusions, looking from the Big Pharmakos on stage to the Big Pharmakos sitting beside me, and back and then back again. I breathe, count up and down from ten, sort of luxuriating in the impossibility spread out before me. The dimensions of the room are such that I can’t look directly at the Big Pharmakos on stage and at the one sitting beside me at the same time — I have to sweep from one to the other, losing direct sight of the first as soon as I lock onto the second.

 

This makes it hard to maintain complete certainty that both are in fact the same man.

 

“That fucker’s stealing my shit,” moans Big Pharmakos.

 

I open my mouth to respond just as another punchline detonates and the audience is blown back into the aisles, the room going silent in that action-movie way that’s often done to indicate the deafness that I guess is supposed to follow in the wake of a real explosion.

 

As they climb back into their seats yet again, Big Pharmakos continues on, like maybe he talked right through the explosion — “and not even just my jokes, man, but my whole deal. My schtick and vibe and delivery and floorwork, and … and my whole basic way of seeming and being. Wholesale ripoff up there, and look at me now, jammed down into some seat next to you like some nobody off the street, but, no offense but, and nobody’ll believe that I — and who is that guy up there anyway? How did it happen? He’s the nobody, in real goddam life if there still is such a thing, and I’m — ”

 

BOOM.

 

Intermission.

 

During intermission, a kid decked out in circus ticket-taker garb (you know, striped button-up vest and red billowing pantaloons and so on) comes around with one of those snack trays hanging around his neck, selling what appear to be pretzels.

 

They are not pretzels.

 

I get one, and one for Big Pharmakos, and the kid shimmies on to the next row, refusing to take my money (“Complimentary, complimentary,” he mutters, in a put-on sounding accent).

 

Holding the thing in my hand, I see that it’s not a pretzel but a big doughy hand, butter pasted onto the back in the places where the knuckles should be.

 

I recoil, recognizing it as my own Dead Hand from that episode a few months ago. I break it open to find a note from Industry Ed. It says, “Celebrate the unveiling after the show! In the park, directly across the street! Cheers, I. Ed.”

 

*****

 

The doughy hand dangling in my hand, and Big Pharmakos beside me, still fuming, we stand in the park, in the same crowd that had until now filled the auditorium.

 

Industry Ed is up on a platform, the kind guys running for Mayor shout from, and beside him is a figure of about his height with a pale sheet draped over it.

 

“As many of you are doubtless aware,” he begins.

 

I see people to my right and left munching doughy hands. THAT’S MY HAND, I want to tell them, but Industry Ed goes on, “not long ago we lost one of our citizens to the vague forces of adventure. He set out from our midst one night, after watching The Wicker Man, as the story goes, and never returned. He is lost to us for good, it saddens me to report. Or,” here his big Cheshire Cat mouth breaks into a grin, “or, I should say, WAS lost to us for good.”

 

I’M BACK! I want to shout. I’M RIGHT HERE! But when I open my mouth, it feels stuffed with that doughy hand material and I gag and heave.

 

“Was lost to us,” continues Industry Ed, striding over to the draped figure, “until … ” he unveils the figure, revealing a perfect copy of me, standing dutifully on a mat and smiling at the crowd, “until now!!”

 

The crowd gets blasted to the sides the same way they did at the impostor’s punchlines in the auditorium.

 

Industry Ed whispers to me up on stage. “Do you see what I see?” he whispers. “Do you see him standing out there, in the crowd, glaring up at us?”

 

“Where?” I ask, leaning toward him to return the whisper, my back stiff and my kidneys weak-feeling.

 

He points and I look carefully out over the crowd until I see me, standing down in there toward the back, beside Big Pharmakos, also glaring, the only two mouths not munching.

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Turns out, the decision about whether to return to Dodge or stay out here on the road has been made for me. Just when I was on the verge of deciding, an interpolated nightmare sequence wormed its way in. These things happen, and not in an especially science-fictional way, what with the Night Crusher loose and me just hanging out here on the road, looking like I need something to do.

 

*****

 

So I’m out near St. Louis with three friends and we’ve rented a convertible. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever spent this long in a convertible before, and easily the first time I’ve driven one, not that we’re driving right now, here in the scene where it opens. We’ve all got some time off and, I guess, some money, and so here we are, parked in some mall parking lot in a suburb of St. Louis.

 

We’ve spent the night out here, under the sky in our convertible, when, around dawn, a cop shows up. He cruises into the parking lot — a quick scan reveals there to be no other cars around — and, as he’s approaching us, one of my friends cranks shut the lid of the convertible.

 

He keeps approaching as we manically scoop piles of pills and powders and gels and serums and tinctures, dark broths and bulbous solids in solution, under the seats and into the glove compartment, trying to clean the place as best we can before he gets here. I don’t know what all this stuff we have in here is, or where it came from, but here it is … that much I couldn’t gainsay.

 

The cop knocks on the roof, knowing it’s retractable, but my friend in the driver’s seat rolls down the window instead, and they start talking. My friend lies like he’s had long, good years of practice, and the cop seems to buy it. Everything seems to be going well, the rest of us keeping ruler-straight faces as our friend lies on and on, exhaustively listing all the contraband we don’t have, and what we weren’t up to last night, and don’t know the first thing about now.

 

The cop seems to have bought it, but then, when he turns toward his cruiser and says he’ll be right back, and that we’d better sit tight, all four of us feel the moment we’re in about to be ravaged, reduced to floating dander and feather-stalks in the gas-smelling parking lot air.

 

So we tear free from our seatbelts and hurl ourselves out of the car and into a run, madly across the empty white parking lines and away from the mall, away from St. Louis and all of its suburbs, deep into the woods, headlong, crashing down on our ankles and knees so hard that every impact might be the one that ends in a crack, loud as a splitting tree.

 

Without looking behind us, we know that the Night Crusher is on our tail, gaining speed as we lose it, running ourselves out. The air behind us whistles and whines and a mist of stirred up fallen leaves surrounds us as we go, losing ground no matter how much we take.

 

Finally, deep in the woods, maybe no longer in Missouri, we see the Night Crusher approaching, his cool walk somehow still faster than our is-this-what-it-all-comes-down-to? run.

 

Just as he comes within smelling distance, another entity breaks onto the scene. It’s a brown UPS truck, rumbling along a dirt road at the top of the hill that we’re at the bottom of. I wave my hands and jump up and down like a marooned man who’s spotted his first reconnaissance plane in five years.

 

The truck skids to a halt and we all scrabble up the hill and climb in the back, the Night Crusher chomping just behind us as we slam and bolt the door.

 

We slump against the wall and try to catch our breath as an old woman comes back from the driver’s seat and says hi to me, as if we’d arranged months ago for her to pick me up from the airport, and now she’s done just that. “Well,” she says, “How ya been?”

 

I force a smile, trying to remember her, finding that I can’t, or, anyway, don’t. Must be someone my parents knew when I was very little, someone who came around before I could differentiate.

 

She shrugs, unaware of or unperturbed by the Night Crusher’s persistent pounding on the truck, and gets back in the driver’s seat and drives on.

 

We drive all through the night, none of us speaking, that pounding going on and on. The Night Crusher must have  climbed onto the outcropping above the back wheels, or else he’s following along at that cool walking pace, effortlessly keeping up with the speeding truck.

 

In the morning, we get out at her home in Kentucky. It’s a modest but attractive home, a few rooms and a front and back patio, the smell of things cooking and having been cooked. Her husband, a very old man named Henry, greets us, and asks how the trip was. We look over his shoulder at the Night Crusher standing just outside the window, watching us and the back of Henry’s head.

 

Lunch is served, then dinner, then dessert. We sit up talking a long time, imagining these to be our final moments, drinking tea, eating cherry-shaped chocolates from a big foil-laced box of cherry-imprints, a bottle of liqueur in the center of the table, its label embellished with the amber-like globules of ancient spilled drops.

 

She shows us to our room, night-lit by the Night Crusher’s eyes, which glow as they follow us from window to window, and then we get in the beds she’s made for us, jittering with terror and assorted withdrawal symptoms.

 

We lie there all night, waiting for the moment when he reaches a hand under any one of the windows, slides it open, lets himself in.

 

But it doesn’t happen. We wake up to birds chirping and sun, the smell of coffee and bacon.

 

After breakfast, we roam the house and discover a number of saws stashed in innocuous-looking places like the basket that holds the firewood and the laundry hamper where we drop our used clothes (after putting on the soft, powdery suits she’s laid out for us).

 

I bring one of these saws into the kitchen and ask, showing it to Henry, if it’s meant to be used against the Night Crusher.

 

“Against whom?” he asks, leaning in to hear better.

 

I point out the window.

 

“Ah,” he says, and makes a gesture like I should hand him the saw, so I do.

 

He jauntily balances it across his shoulders, puts his shoes and cap on, and goes out onto the patio to confront the Night Crusher.

 

The Night Crusher kills him immediately.

 

The rest of the afternoon is spent with all of us sitting at the card table under the window, looking at the dead body and the Night Crusher standing above it, quiet and boring as a still life.

 

Like so it gets dim again.

 

Around dark, we start hearing windows opening and closing; our hearts start floundering again. We go from window to window, dragging saws, and see that it’s the neighbors, opening them from the outside.

 

“Just thought you should know!” they shout, “The Night Crusher could get in here any damn time he pleases!”

 

When he’s finished killing them all and dragging their bodies to the pile inaugurated by Henry this morning, he goes back to standing there, staring at us inside the house.

 

“Do you boys need anything else before bed?” she shouts from another room.

 

The liqueur and cherries have been out and then put back away, mostly finished. “No ma’am!” we shout, lying down in our beds in clean pajamas, where we wait wide-eyed for yet another bright and bird-chirpy morning to come.

I was, at first, scuttling along the rooftops, out of the City of Motel 6’s and into the suburbs, as I’d expected and basically prepared myself to do. It was rough going.

 

Then it got easier, evened out. I was still up on the rooftops but they seemed lower now, and flatter, and there got to be trees and what felt and looked (though it was night and there were no longer any Motel 6 signs to light the way) like dirt, and some rushing-away bunnies. I lost track of this all still being on the rooftops and came to think of myself as back on the ground. Until a field of houses on a plain way below caught my attention.

 

I crept over to the edge and looked off. At first I thought they were glow-in-the-dark but, after a second of looking, I saw that they were translucent, glowing plasticky green from within. They looked less than solid, i.e. gummy, made of rubber or some sugar or glue compound. Inside, what at first looked like pits turned out to be hulking, monstrous bodies, slowing stretching masks over their heads and standing in the green glow, ready to go out and do their night-work.

 

Except they didn’t. For as long as I looked, they remained arrested in the process of pulling their masks on, even though they weren’t moving that slowly and I watched for a long time. Somehow, it was as if their masks were both on and not on at the same time, being pulled constantly lower on their heads, though they never crossed over to encroach on their necks and shoulders.

 

When I’d had enough of this scene, I retreated from the edge and kept going in the general direction I’d been going in — “West,” I’d come to call it, like a trusty terrier trotting along beside me. The terrain evened out again, and I was back in the dirt and leaping bunnies and benches, many of which had people sitting on them.

 

I sat down on the first empty bench I came to and drew my arms around me, surprised, as I often am, at how much colder the night can get as it goes along, even after the sun’s been out for hours. Trying to warm up and catch my breath, I yawn and lean back and am soon out.

 

In the other place, I’m a reporter or professional biographer, given the coveted assignment of writing the new, or only, authorized biography of some towering 20th c. figure, like Francis Bacon or Nikola Tesla, if not TS Eliot. Months of dream-time go by, during which I squander each and every interview opportunity, drunkenly refusing to show up even at scheduled appointments, resolutely doing nothing as the months roll on. I stroll along the London riverfront and mope around in fish shops, reading the paper, watching the clock, or not watching it, watching the ice in my drinks melt. I stumble into potholes and stand there for hours, my foot stuck and twisted down in the street, watching the grannies come and go from the pastry shops at teatime.

 

Then, on the night before the biography’s due (I seem to have promised that it’s coming along just fine, and, this being a dream, no one’s asked for proof), I break into this towering 20th c figure’s house when he’s fast asleep. No one, neither guards nor servants nor overnight guests, appears to be around, unless they’ve all slept too soundly to hear (I often conjure extraneous sleepers in dreams).

 

I march into his room and rip him out of bed and wrap my hands around his neck and shriek, “Tell me the truth! Tell me the fucking truth about your life and work!!”

 

When he goes slack I let him go, back into the bed where he’d been, and then I wake up, on the bench.

 

“Okay,” I think, “may as well keep moving.”

 

So I keep moving, toward the filtering-in of dawn. I wonder if all those masked dudes back in the translucent houses ever got a move on, or if they spent the whole night tugging at their masks and now they’ll have to wait until dark to try again.

 

In the higher dawn, probably 5:45am or so, I encounter a man bathing in a grotesque puddle a ways off the main thoroughfare. He’s placidly luxuriating in it, covered in slime, more melancholy than erotic, watching what I can tell are doom-ridden clouds overhead, in a sky only he can see. He bubbles down in it and then comes back up, licking his lips with a sad smile. I let him be, for me, this morning, Bruno Schulz, the closest I’m likely to come today.

 

Finally, nearing the outskirts of Dodge City, I find an encampment of broken-down autos configured to smack of The Depression. Radios are set up, people are cooking over small flames, eating from cans, all of that.

 

I come in among them, hungry, and sit on a block of wood, waiting to be handed some beans or a hock of bread, which I am. I eat and relax, then look around and notice how old everyone is. Like really, really old. The oldest I’ve seen in this life.

 

They’re good-looking though, more than I’d noticed at first, and more than I can quite explain. They look like the Hollywood stars of many eras, all lumped together, and, here and now, all equally old. Without anyone’s saying anything (they seem mute aside from grumbles and swallows), I can tell what’s going on here: these must be the old versions of the stars, the oldest of the old, held way out here, in abeyance, prevented from coming in to where the stars themselves live, preen, and work, and switching places with them, when the time is right (which, for many of them, was decades ago).

 

I wonder how long they’ve been kept out here, and then I wonder if the compound’s guarded. When I get up to leave, it turns out to be. Some army looking guy with an assault rifle takes me behind a trailer, where another one of them is, and we talk it out. I tell them the truth about Bruno Schulz, and they let me go.

 

“Okay,” I think again, judging it to be 9 am. “Back to Dodge City? Or more life on the road?”

 

I give myself until next Thursday to decide.

After an amount of time in my room, during which I seem to have cleaned myself up and donned the set of Motel 6 Pajamas that was laid out for me in shrinkwrap on the bed, I have arrived at the present moment, sitting here with my eyes counting the reddish 6’s running up and down the blue of my arms and legs, and thinking and waiting. My other clothes, the ones I came in in, are gone, tossed perhaps down a chute to some laundry inferno far below.

 

There comes a knock on the door and I thrill to think it must be room service, though, to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t ordered yet. Maybe a little something complimentary.

 

So I open up and, sure enough, a chef, or a guy in a chef suit, stands before me, pushing a cart laid out with a white tablecloth and a little gas burner and some bowls of oil and one of those rounded ham carving knives you only see at roast ham and build-an-omelette stations.

 

He eyes my Motel 6 pajamas suspiciously, as if they weren’t standard issue, then pushes the cart past me, muttering, and closes the door.

 

Then he takes my room’s Bible out of its drawer under the phone by the bed. He carries it gingerly, by one corner, back to his station, where he puts it on a slab and drizzles oil over it.

 

I come close to see what he’s doing and he waves me back with the knife, then starts cutting filet-type slices into the Good sopping green-leather Book. He puckers up his little mustache and breathes evenly as he examines his work, piling up the filets he’s cut so far on another part of the slab, which I might more decently call a cutting board, and sprinkling them with pepper and scallions.

 

“Redacting the Apocrypha?” I ask, trying to make conversation.

 

“Don’know Moses,” he says in a thick accent and way under his breath, without looking up. “Abr’ham, Isaac, Judas, Joe … no, no, no, no, no.” He picks up a slice and bites a corner out of it, chewing thoughtfully, and checks something off on a laminated Motel 6 instructions sheet, picking at his teeth.

 

I sit here and watch him work until, finding that I’ve gone all skin-crawly, I get the idea of pushing the TV onto the roof and watching from up there, looking out at the city of Motel 6’s until my head clears.

 

“You gotta do every room by dawn?” I ask, thinking to distract his attention as I go about unplugging the TV and getting it onto the roof, as if he’d otherwise try to stop me, but he doesn’t say anything until, a few minutes later, when I’m most of the way out the window, he says, “shoes,” and kicks two meaty rubber slabs out from under the rolling buffet table. My other shoes must have gone the way of my other clothes, so I slip my feet gratefully in these squishy Motel 6 flip-flops, big and shapeless as kickboards, and resume climbing and pushing the TV onto the roof, looking back one last time to see him dismantling the Bible’s binding and showering the loose, protruding threads with Tabasco.

 

*****

 

Now comes a slapstick Sisyphus interlude as I keep trying to push the TV onto the roof and keep sliding back down, almost dropping it, slipping around in my new flip-flops like someone practicing vaudeville pratfalls from a YouTube tutorial.

 

Then, once the interlude is over, I’m up there.

 

I sit on a high gable, smelling the port city air, and watch a murder trial on TV. I’m right up in the nest of aerials and antennae, feeding the whole Motel 6, so the reception is impeccable, uncanny even.

 

It’s a man on trial for murdering “a number of people” with a shard of glass. The narrator repeats that phrase a number of people so often that it starts to sound like the stock descriptor for people in a group, like a pride of lions or a coven of witches or whatever … a number of people, I think, wow, he killed a whole number with a single shard.

 

His defense consists of him shrieking, again and again, “I thought there were restrictions on glass! I thought there were restrictions on glass!”

 

His lawyer, if that’s what the suited-up guy next to him his, looks like he’s loving every minute of it, rolling a grin into the side of his thumb as he keeps putting his hand up to his mouth, trying, without too much success, to smooth his mouth into an expression of composed seriousness.

 

Now the man’s shrieking, “I thought glass was free! I thought glass was free!”

 

Finding the whole thing a little hysterical for my mood, I push the TV off the roof. It lands soundlessly, or — and this will come to bother me more and more over the next hours — doesn’t land.

 

Anyway, at the very least it’s clear that now’s a good time to start heading back toward Dodge City, so I set out into what soon becomes a long, spacey roof-wandering episode, not unlike that long, long scene where he gets lost on the drear castle rooftops near the beginning of — you guys remember this part? — Titus Groan.