Archives for the month of: June, 2013

PLANES OVERHEAD make such constant, unseen noise that the sky seems to be on a one-track program of belching and grumbling. It seems to be in disagreement, or trying, maybe too hard, to get something across. Maybe some of it’s heat lightning; maybe some aspects are echoes of other aspects.

 

Under such a thing, we make our way back and forth to an exciting brand-new Dodge City venue called BERGMAN ONE.

 

No one knows how it came about or who opened it, or even who runs it — sometimes, it seems, the things we think of or wish for turn out to exist, as if reality were more in the catering-to-our-whims business than it usually gets or takes credit for being.

 

What BERGMAN ONE is is a place to discover the (unparalleled, unsurpassable, super-human, etc etc etc … etc) films of Ingmar Bergman.

 

But not just to, like, watch them. That’s easy enough to do anywhere. No, what BERGMAN ONE is is a place to discover the films of Ingmar Bergman for the first time, again and again, every day if you come that often.

 

It’s a place — it does, I’ll admit, look like an ordinary theater — where you enter and, no matter how many times you’ve been there before, it’s always your first time. You’re 22, a junior in college, at that point in your life where sex has started to seem not just cool and brag-worthy but also tied to slashed hives of writhing monsters, the irrefutably dual existence/nonexistence of God, doom, dark snow, silence, outrage, madness, viciousness … the persistence of the medieval throughout the supposedly or avowedly “modern,” the way we all play our roles, never more so than when we “refuse” to play them … the way in which the transcendent ideal can be renounced but never escaped … the myriad cruelties required to achieve true selfhood and dignity, more undignified with every step … we’re at the point, every morning at BERGMAN ONE, where we’re just starting to feel a burgeoning totality to life, a sense that we’re not all just ebulliently on the up-and-up-and-up, but that there are countermovements and counterweights fraughting things in there as well, secrets from ourselves, unpopped bubbles of derangement … and the dimness of the woods, the harshness of Protestantism, the nearness of the Arctic, the depths that people crouch in and pull each other down to so as not to be so alone, resentful though they always are at the intrusion …

 

I could go on and on like a real 22-year-old, but I won’t. But I’d like to. That’s how good it feels to hang out at BERGMAN ONE.

 

Every day it’s the same rotation — Seventh Seal, Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries in the morning (the early months of being 22), then a heavy middle period of Shame, The Silence, Winter Light, Through A Glass Darkly, The Hour of the Wolf, culminating in Persona, which we tend to watch a good 30 times in a row (this is the swollen heart of our collective 22nd year), then an attenuated later period where we get through the whole TV versions of Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny & Alexander, and some of the color ones like Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata (when we’re all coming to terms with the nearing reality of turning 23 and facing Senior Year, applying for post-grad stuff, etc etc), then a kind of stunned postlude where we watch the not-even-all-that-good stuff like The Serpent’s Egg and The Passion of Anna, just hoping to come enough back to reality to carry on with our in-comparison hopelessly minuscule and low-energy lives.

 

We write the same furious, revelation-juiced notes in our journals every single day. Then, exhausted, we all go out for late-nite Chinese and DISCUSS: “He’s just so right … about life!!” we all agree.

 

We are self-consciously aware of ourselves sounding like Woody Allen acting out Woody Allen talking about being obsessed with Bergman in the actual 70s, but this only adds to our wattage.

 

All summer, we start each day as 22-year-olds and end each day as 23-year-olds. That’s the cusp we toggle on and around. Amazing what a world of difference Bergman makes between them.

 

*****

I WOULD HAVE SPENT THE REST OF THE SUMMER in this state, starting every single day with The Seventh Seal and ending it in rapt awe at what a testament to a life split between or trying to unify God, pain, and art Fanny & Alexander truly is, and would have done so gladly, like one of those rats you always hear about that just keeps triggering its dopamine center until it dies from dehydration, had it not been for the RABBIT INFESTATION.

 

But the rabbit infestation, and its — I’d say — strange results, put me in a different mindset. It returned me, for one, to my natural age of 26, forcing me to let go of 22/23 like dropping a guy off a cliff or building after losing hold of his fingers in one of those stock action movie set-ups.

 

What happened was that all these rabbits were around everywhere — like everywhere, like you almost couldn’t get your feet through them to the sidewalk. You were crushing one or two with every step, wearing a compacted mass of five or six as shoes before long.

 

Perhaps the rampant sexuality of the Bergman worldview had spread to their species, and this was what it had gotten them.

 

It got gross quickly; then it got weird.

 

The way in which it got weird was that, overnight, all the dead and living rabbits were removed and replaced with glass replicas. There were replicas of the intact rabbits, in the positions they’d last been seen in, as well as replicas of all the crushed rabbits, in the exact positions (don’t ask me how they got the glass to mirror the crush of flesh, fur, bone, &c) they’d last been seen in.

 

It was like a display set up by the Dodge City Police Dept. for Future Police Generations to study, in hopes that they’d figure out, historically, what the problem had been, like a recreation of a crime scene … or perhaps, more hermeneutically, to determine whether, with the benefit of hindsight, it had been a problem at all.

 

*****

I WAS OUT exploring this exhibit one night, imagining myself to be a member of that Future Police Generation, filing a report to myself, reminiscing on my now long-bygone-feeling Bergman days, when I was approached from behind.
He appeared behind and then beside me on a dark residential street exactly like the villain in The Flame Alphabet does.

 

I was trying to think of that villain’s name (Molloy? Malone?) when he told me that his name was Internethead.

 

He didn’t ask my name and I didn’t try to tell him.

 

He told me, kicking a glass rabbit aside with the toe of a boot, that he was the only man alive who’d “made it to the End of the Internet.”

 

“Just as you would a book or a workout,” he said. “Or a series of Chemo sessions, or a list of Names.”

 

He went on to say that, now that he’d put the entirety of the Internet behind him, he was about to dive “back into the flesh pool.”

 

I took a step away from him.

 

“Ha,” he said.

 

His head bulged, especially in the region of his left eye, in a simultaneously internal and external way, as though a second head were in the process of bursting up and out through his first, main, one.

 

If he started bleeding frantically right now — or at any point in however long this scene ends up going on — I would not have been (will not be) at all surprised.

 

He displayed, I realized, the exact symptoms of the New Flesh from Videodrome, as if the whole Internet amounted to no more than what VHS and TV, in the end, amounted to. He was a character cribbed literally from David Cronenberg, without even minor adaptation or reinterpretation — like an actor made up to star in one film who, because shooting got done a bit early one day, wandered across the lot and onto another set and slipped into the shooting of a completely different film, in exactly the same role, to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.

 

It’s a relief to be so totally open, for once, about my influences.

 

Waking me up from this reverie, he says, taking in the sweep of the glass rabbits surrounding us, “You know the little-known story of the Dodge City Genocide?”

 

I have to admit that I do not.

 

“Well,” he says, his bulge fulminating, “it was one of the worst.”

 

I can tell that we’re walking, on our way somewhere.

 

We pass through endless fields of glass rabbits, regarding which he says, “Try to let this metaphor support rather than obscure my point.”

 

I agree to try.

 

“It was,” he says, “an untraceable Genocide, as the worst ones always are. No visible bodies, no one to say for sure that it happened.”

 

My silence inspires, or at least permits, him to continue.

 

“In the middle part of the last century, some Elements came to Power in Dodge City that set about purging the place utterly of what they termed Ghost Detritus. They were heavily influenced by the theology of Daniel Paul Schreber, who wrote endlessly and, for them, convincingly, about, depending on what translation you use, a highly undesirable demographic of ‘Floating Trash People.'”

 

Internethead buzzes and shivers in a way that I’d describe as Nearing the Edge of the Human. Then he goes on:

 

“This Element turned its dark attention to this demographic in Dodge City, dubbing it Ghost Detritus so as to avoid any translation ambiguities, and set about radically exterminating it. The thing is, this Ghost Detritus left no record. Their bodies — living and dead alike — do not show up in photographs. There is no record of their ever having possessed residences or objects of any kind … families, jobs … no trace. So, you won’t be surprised to hear, this Genocide has been especially easy to Deny.”

 

We’re standing beside a car now, and I know it’s only a matter of time until Internethead tells me to get in.

 

“Most of the citizens of Dodge City, if you ask them about it, will manifest no difficulty in Denying that this Genocide ever, in any form, occurred. The chilly presence of Ghost Detritus drifts naturally in and out with the winds of history, is the most you’ll likely hear, from anyone, on this topic.”

 

“Aw, I bet you say that to all the towns,” I half want to tell him, but he has a gravity that’s hard to interrupt. It’s hard to know whether a man who’s made it to the End of the Internet ought to be the first or the last one you listen to.

 

Now he’s opening up the car, dabbing his New Flesh with a handkerchief. He might be crying.

 

He says that he’s going to drive me way out into the desert, to see the remnants of the City that once was. “It’s some Prelapsarian, if that’s the word, shit,” he promises. “From before the Genocide. You will not, I promise, feel like Denying what happened after you’ve seen it.”

 

I initially express concern about being driven “way out into the desert” by a complete stranger such as he, but he just laughs and says, “Man, where I’ve been, I’ve seen and done it all … all I ever wanted to do and then some. It’s out of my system.”

 

He makes a fluttering motion with one hand, to show that “It,” whatever had been in his system and that I’d been afraid might pose a threat to me, has gone off to join the other air.

 

“Sorry about the mess,” he says, indicating the Qdoba bags that I’ll have to clear away to sit down on the passenger seat.

 

I exhale as he starts the car. Glass rabbits crunch as he backs up. I worry about the tires, surprised to find that I now very much hope we get where he wants us to go and aren’t halted by a flat on the way.

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This a splinter- or heretical-post, deviating from last week’s dispatch from Suicide Sam.

 

Down in the Dodge City Mythos, competing versions of foundational and luminous events gnash and gnaw without surcease. It is less a competition for canonization than it is the workings of the engine that drives the whole thing forward, affording the town the energy it needs to persevere.

 

What I’m saying is, if one version of what happened (or what’s happening) were ever to beat out all the others, that would be the end of A Room in Dodge City.

 

So another name for Suicide Sam is the Creeping Despair. That’s how some tell it. Some say he came over from Europe, others have him pegged as a “drifted in from the Canadian Wilderness” type, while still others will consider nothing short of “uncut, mentholated L.A.” as an origin story.

 

In my version of the earliest days of Dodge City, there was a Civil War on (not the Civil War, but one of the main ones). Loose among both sides was the Creeping Despair. He was a soldier like anyone else, trying to make his way and a name for himself.

 

He Crept up on people, they Despaired, etc etc.

 

It came to be that a Group of Deserters, freshly pumped with Despair, drifted away from the battle lines, and ended up in the swamp or desert that would in time become Dodge City. They sat there, on a log with their feet dangling just above the lips of the catfish, or in the scorching sand with scorpions ringing them like sweat, and waited.

 

The irony — or just the fact — was that The Creeping Despair had come here with them. He too had Deserted, having grown bored of the Civil War, believing he had done all he could do there. Ken Burns would later disagree, but he was entitled to his opinion too.

 

So the Creeping Despair sat and waited among the Group of Deserters. Lord knows what they ate. Maybe burning bushes, land crabs, Kyuss records, the infrequent instantiation of takeout from on high.

 

In any case, others were in time drawn in. They were drawn inward from the coasts, downward from the skies, and upward from the far bottom of the buried earth, riding elevators like the one in Angel Heart.

 

When enough of a quorum had solidified, Dodge City was founded. The Creeping Despair was highly present that day.

 

Life as usual — we’re talking prehistoric, or at most historic, times — commenced. The Creeping Despair started making the rounds of this new citizenry. Before long, this being a small town, he’d gotten to everyone.

 

THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEMS STARTED: the Creeping Despair became a prisoner of his own success.

 

Morosely he wandered around Christian bookstores and knickknack stands, sipping flavored coffee and signing autographs for the few who bothered to ask. Nothing but Creeping made him happy. If he could no longer do that, he would simply be the Despair.

 

He was, as they always are, his own last victim.

 

*****

PRESENT DAY: Crippled by the fact of himself to the point where any possibility of leaving Dodge City is out of the question, and needing thus somehow to subsist in the interim, the Despair has taken a job cleaning houses. 

 

His rates being reasonable and there being no competition, the Despair has made of this a tidy, if glum, business. He cleans all of our houses biweekly.

 

Or, he’s supposed to.

 

Something has been going on. He has all of our keys in order to clean our houses when we’re away (like right now, for instance, while I write this). Which he does. But he’s been coming too often.

 

Much, much too often.

 

It started where he’d come every week and only bill us for every other, and it got worse from there. He’d come every three days, every other day, every day.

 

Many people now claim that he’s entering their houses WHENEVER they step outside, no matter how briefly and with how little announcement. Like he’s in all places at once, and knows his targets down to their minutest micro-movements.

 

“Any moment I’m not in my house, the Despair is in there, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning,” is so common a lament nowadays that it’s become a cliché.

 

No one has ever caught him at it, but whenever we return home, we find our presences — the material record of our habitation — undeniably more erased than they had been when we left.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have clean living quarters, but it’s unsettling to come home and have no smell of yourself to greet you. To come home and feel as though you are entering the house for the first time, like it’s a display house you have not yet decided to buy.

 

The Despair seems even to be washing our sheets, our clothes, our dishes. The finger-greasy keyboards of our laptops.

 

He is polishing us away, turning us into ghosts, rendering us incapable of impact.

 

 

*****

This seemed like it was going to be the end, but then one further thing happened: A FIRE.

 

The Despair was cleaning one of our houses while one of us was out buying grapefruit juice and fish for dinner, when the whole place went up in flame.

 

Maybe arson from afar, maybe rank accident, a bleach mishap.

 

[RELEVANT PREVIOUS ITEM: https://aroomindodgecity.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/a-burnt-house/]

 

Anyway, the place was blazing to the heavens when the Fire Dept. showed up.

 

Specifically, a firefighter by the name of Paul T. S. Denison. Now, this man has an interesting history: he’d initially been scouted by Peter Straub in Vietnam to play Tim Underhill, the writer and madman, in his novel Koko, but in the end was passed over due to contractual gridlock.

 

So, instead, he was sent to Dodge City to play a firefighter. Here he is, racing to rescue the Despair:

 

As soon as he gets across the lawn, he freezes up. He collapses on the front steps, sobbing, rocking on his haunches, gasping, spitting …

 

The Despair comes out and sits beside him while the house continues to burn, diminishing behind the two of them. Paul T. S. Denison howls with fury and grief while the Despair watches, his body filling with gladness.

 

All is not lost, the Despair thinks to himself. The house finishes burning, so now the scene is two men on a freestanding step-shaped brick platform, with the street in front of them and a smoldering ash-pit behind.

 

“I can’t … I just can’t … ” sobs the fireman, wracked with grief, fear, overwhelmed by his life, the immensity and brevity of it, the futility, the wonderment and … and …

 

He can’t think anymore. The Despair sidles closer, thinking, Okay, time to go to work. Let’s see if you’ve still got it, old boy ….

BEFORE my time (the 70s, I’ll say, though I view the entirety of the time before my arrival here as a single longish day), there was a spate of a certain type of Suicide in Dodge City. A hard-to-sort type, as the story goes, because it wasn’t unanimously clear whether these Suicidees were in fact dead. They were still, for what it’s worth, present in town, though they kept to themselves. It was broadly considered to be the case that they’d committed Suicide without any consensus on what, in particular, this meant.

 

At first, the Suicide Cemetery Manager campaigned to bury as many as possible, but very few turned up at their gravesites, even when subpoenaed, and none could be forced into the ground against their will.

 

This began when, one summer, a figure called or calling himself Suicide Sam either came to or arose from Dodge City.

 

What he did was approach people, in broad daylight, and whisper, near enough for them to smell his breath, “Now you may, as do most people, have until now shrunk from serious consideration of Suicide because of your perfectly reasonable reluctance to undergo pain, gruesomeness, agony, suffering … ”

 

He had their attention.

 

“BUT, what if I were to tell you that you — You! –could commit Suicide right here and right now with no strings attached, no blood spilled nor organs ruptured, and, best of all, no work or patience required?”

 

He’d pause, then continue. “By which I mean, would you give it all up if it didn’t hurt and you didn’t have to think twice?” He’d wave a hand suggestively, a calculated mixture of menace and enticement. “Think about it … no more tedium, no more fatigue, no more not-enough and way-too-much … no more worry about next things.”

 

Suicide Sam got a number of Yeses. When he got a Yes, he simply touched the consenting man, woman, or child on the shoulder, and said, “There it is. All done. Welcome to Suicide.”

 

By July, he was to be seen walking around Dodge City with a gaggle of distracted, uncertain looking people, all of whom were very careful not to talk or respond to or even look at any of the living they came in contact with, especially not their own former friends, lovers, colleagues, families, pets, etc.

 

Those lines were cut. If they ate, slept, or attended to any other functions of life, they did so in private. No one knew where they went, only that they could not be gotten-through-to. By August, they’d disappeared for good.

 

*****

SO MUCH FOR THE PAST, except to say that, somewhere in all of this, Suicide Sam fathered or in some other manner produced a Son.

 

Now, this Summer, 2013, is The Summer of Son of Suicide Sam. I see him all over town, propositioning people with the old promise of “No-Step Suicide,” touching them on the shoulder like his Father supposedly did, shutting them up for good. They fall into step behind him, hanging back, not making eye contact, while he works his game.

 

He’s propositioned me several times. I always rebuff him, saying, “If it comes to that for me, I want it to hurt. I want to work for it.” I consider this a core tenet of mine.

 

He always seems taken aback, but he shrugs it off and moves on. I saw him talking to Big Pharmakos the other day, and it appeared as though my old friend was about to accept the offer when he got a phone call and lost interest.

 

BY AUGUST, a new thing is going on: Son of Suicide Sam has retreated from the streets and his Suicidees have begun proselytizing on their own. They’ve broken with precedent.

 

Some say this new crop of Suicidees is nothing but a Band of Rebels, aimlessly stirring up anarchy that will buckle under its own weight by early autumn. But others see a more darkly religious aspect in it, something way beyond the small-time cult trouble we’re by now used to. “Son of Suicide Sam is a darker horse than his Father,” is a popular phrase of late.

 

The Suicidees come right up to you and, their breath awful and copious, whisper, “Do you wanna come back to my place, and … you know?” Always like that, with no variation in inflection or punctuation.

 

They’re good at finding you, too: they’ve cornered me in every restroom in town, many more than once, even the one-person kind that I lock on my way in.

 

No one knows what place “come back to my place” refers to, even whether it’s a physical or metaphysical one. The center of controversy, of course, is the solicitation’s final, ironic, “you know,” since, well, we don’t know. There are those who believe the whole line is simply a rephrasing of the old One-Step Suicide Offer, but these tend be the types who are in the habit of not putting too fine a point on things.

 

Others believe it to be a classic Murder Pickup Line, and are correspondingly wary. Yet others — those who want no part of the possibility that these people are indeed, legitimately dead — hear the line only in its obvious sexual register, believing it to be an entreaty either to spectate or to partake in the realm of the pornographic.

 

Needless to say, any requests for elaboration from the Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are met with silence or, at best, the exact same line repeated.

 

*****

THESE ARE THE general circumstances afoot when, early one evening, one of them approaches me in an ATM stall and asks, “Do you wanna come back to my place and watch some porn?”

 

I’m so thrown by the variation on the familiar theme that I don’t reply.

 

“Both genders,” he adds.

 

The thing in me that makes me do things makes me nod. “Okay,” I say. Something about the concreteness and the clarity of the question … after such a vague summer, I feel not at liberty to say no. Like I might never get another chance to understand something.

 

We walk a long way, past the defunct stores, the weed-cut parking lots, the cars on cinder blocks, the empty billboards, the depots where nothing is any longer delivered. Piles of metal parts, piles of fur and rubber, piles of sawdust and stripped paint. Train stations with smudged chalkboard Departures and Arrivals.

 

It’s safe to say this is farther out than I’ve been before. “Soon we’ll be close,” he says, and I realize it’s the first time he’s spoken since the initial query. “I’d hold off on any Darkness on the Edge of Town jokes you may have been about to make,” he advises.

 

I take his advice. After a lot more silence, we get there. It’s an encampment in a dry riverbed. People are standing around, gawking, moving in a reduced and restricted way.

 

This, apparently, is where The Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are living. Or if “living” is too fraught a word just now, I’ll amend it to “staying.” There are younger and older ones, and, as promised, both genders. The older are, apparently, the crop that the original Suicide Sam brought out of this lifetime all those years ago, in the 70’s if you will. There are bulky dirt-covered forms all around, in the shapes of trees, huts, animals, but with no definition, all equally dusked.

 

There is certainly no fire or smell of cooking food, or, for that matter, smell of human waste. I get very cold very fast. There are no chirping crickets or garter snakes whipping around my toes.

 

There’s nothing to say, but I say, “Okay, so where’s the porn?”

 

Of course, whoever led me out here is nowhere around. He’s melded back in among his fellows, just as dead as they are … as dead as, apparently, now, I am too. I can’t even distinguish people from background shapes like rocks and metal anymore, though I try to hold onto the idea that I’m not alone.

 

I’d say, “I take a moment to process what just happened,” but, suddenly and for the first time, I feel no hurry to get to things. No pressure to deal with them. I sit down and think maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a hundred thousand, I’ll stand up, or shift my sitting position ever so slightly.