Archives for the month of: September, 2013

TODAY’S THE DAY.

 

Which means that lots of days, recently, in retrospect, were not the day, though at the time I’d thought possibly they were. Which is I suppose the difference between thinking and knowing.

 

I’ve taken my time wending the backstreets, heading back toward the town square slowly enough to avoid any associated Bends. It’s been, feels like, several weeks, like I’ve taken a day per cobblestone.

 

One of the handles of my paper bag of Mass Black Market Video Market Videos is ripping, so I’m holding hard to the other one — I formulate and think-speak the phrase “my last resort” as if a sizable portion of my interior faculty were not on board / up to speed with what’s going on externally.

 

What I first notice, upon entering fully back into the square, is an octagon of old-timers arranged around the fountain, each in an identical suit of black pants and white missionary shirt and bow-tie, sitting at a fold-out table bedecked with a boombox, a jar of jelly candy, and a vase of roses.

 

I stand in the center and give the scene’s audio component a moment to make sense. At first it sounds like a sort of angry round, a group of children all singing their own mocking version of the school song during music class, but then I can tell what it is:

 

It’s the 8 tracks on Dream River, the brand new Bill Callahan album. Each table is broadcasting its own track over and over, surely not on repeat but rather on a CD containing only that track, so as not to risk contamination.

 

Now that I hear the tracks, I realize they’ve been emanating from windows and vehicles and the humming throats of washerwomen throughout my slow trek home. I sit on the edge of the fountain in the center of the square and listen, giving my inner ear fluids a chance to simmer down.

 

I hadn’t yet moved to Dodge City back in 2011 when Apocalypse, the previous Bill Callahan album, came out, but I came soon enough after to see the remnants of the celebration: since Vic Chesnutt died, the release of Bill Callahan albums marks the greatest Carnivale on the Dodge City calendar, like something straight out of Jodorowsky, or even too rich for his blood:

 

Crushed clown masks and vials of mime makeup in the street, gnawed bones of beast and fowl, confetti, streamers and smashed piñata material, birds and lizards hatched, escaped, and trampled underfoot, overturned meat and fried dough carts, impact dents in the pavement, the ash and remnants of burnt effigies, the bandages of unwrapped mummy costumes, hacked- or ripped-off goat horns and the antlers of other fauna, puzzled over and awl-punctured entrails, spilled gasoline from floats and trucks, and a mess of sleepers who have not yet awoken to begin the appeals process against being considered dead.

 

That’s how central Dodge City looked after the last Bill Callahan album came out, and that’s how it looks again now. I’m sitting on the fountain listening to those old-timers playing the new tracks, trying to calculate in my head the degree measure separating each from the next, assuming the square were a clock face with eight points instead of twelve.

 

The tables all fly flags with the slogan “EACH ONE BETTER THAN THE LAST,” which I’m sure they flew when the last album came out as well.

 

As I sit I feel a stirring behind me and turn to see that the fishpond, where the carp and catfish used to bathe above the shiny coin bottom, is full now of Ghost Porn, crackling like underlit cellophane in time to the music.

 

It moans and leers up at me, clearly aware of who and what I am.

 

It has killed all the fish and incorporated their bodies.

 

I begin to feel cornered, like a beam has been trained on me, or several beams at once: I realize that my exploits in the Desert have already been melted down into the Video Record, fair game for hermeneutical scholars and porn mavens both.

 

I stand up in a hurry while all 8 Bill Callahan songs revert to their beginnings, some surely cut short to accommodate the others. The handle on my Video Bag rips off, and I — fully clumsy and flustered — spill all the Videos into the Ghost Porn, watching them sink under and come unspooled in the staticky white broth. The black tape is sucked out and melted down into the Subcutaneous Video Record, from a solid to a liquid in no time flat.

 

Empty-handed, I break into a run, nearly knocking over the table playing Track 6 (“Summer Painter”) in my haste to get home. I am ankle deep in Carnivale runoff, kicking my ankles to the sides to keep them from drowning in what feels like double-thick shaving cream.

 

*****

My only thought had been to get home, but by the time I make it onto my street, I can see what the situation is: as with any town-devouring Carnivale, everyone has rented out their houses and gotten the hell out for a few weeks.

 

So it’s strangers everywhere. A whole nest of them packed away into the houses on my street, in place of my neighbors. Bill Callahan fiends from all over, with longstanding promises to themselves to see how hard it really gets in Dodge City once before dying.

 

They peer at me through their windows — I can see as well as feel them — and I have to slow my pace, catching my breath and feeling residual sweat creep down from my armpits toward my wrists and belt-loops.

 

I stand in front of my house and contemplate ringing the doorbell, either as a stranger requesting lodging, like in that Greek tale where a couple of gods go around begging to see if anyone’s good enough to take them in, or else demanding reentry as the rightful tenant, kicking out whatever lodger gives me grief.

 

But I’m stopped, midway up the front steps, by a headache-inducing vision of everyone in town hunkered down in the Deep Desert now, right back where I until recently was, watching Videos on portable devices and awaiting their run-in with Suicide Sam & Son.

 

So I hack and wheeze and, like a novice postman who realizes just in time he’s got the wrong address for the package in hand, I turn around and head for the hotel.

 

Back to my first ever Room in Dodge City, I smirk and wince to think.

 

*****

Sipping a milkshake I got somewhere along the way, I stand in the lobby.

 

It’s a mess of flashbulbs, amateur paparazzi and wannabes.

 

After a while, I glimpse Big Pharmakos at the convergence of all that camera aim. “That’s right, I’ve been this town’s main pimp and dark, dark comedian as long as I can remember,” he says to someone writing something down. “But, like, dark, know what I mean? Like, real comedy. Actual human shit, as opposed to pussy shit.”

 

I toss my milkshake cup in the trash and, when the circle admits me, go up to him and ask what’s up.

 

He beams: “Where you been, man? I was on Maron last week! Got my big break. Told my life story. How I got to be so funny … the horrors I suffered … my love of Pryor and Dangerfield … all of it.”

 

Then a bodyguard pulls me back, like, “OK, you had your time, time to shove off.”

 

As I’m manhandled out of the crowd, I hear Big Pharmakos say, “Right, and he asked me about the Desert, Suicide Sam, the Ghost Porn, all my wanderings … and I told him, man. You know how he gets it out of people. I told him everything.”

 

The longer I listen, the clearer it becomes that Big Pharmakos has taken my story. Somehow everything I did out there was known to him, back here — clearly some media ploy has been in play for a long time, something so deep in the Video Record that I can’t reach far enough down to finger it.

 

*****

The bouncer throws me all the way outside and it’s surprisingly cold.

 

I wait a long time, like it’s Springsteen in there and all I want is to watch him walk to his car.

 

Finally, Big Pharmakos comes out. Seeing me, he waves his bodyguards away so we can talk.

 

“I’m Huge now,” he says. “Huge Pharmakos. I’ve been on Maron.”

 

“So I hear.”

 

“A limo is coming for me anytime,” he says, staring longingly at the highway off-ramp, visible behind an Arby’s across the street.

 

“Can I hear the Interview?” I ask, not sure if I want to.

 

He bristles. “It’s not up yet. I just got a rough tape, and that’s for me only.”

 

There’s a darkness to him that I haven’t seen before. The phrase “rough tape” sounds extra rough the way he puts it, and I can tell it’s bound up with the Video Record in a way I may not want to dig into.

 

What appears to be the lung of a hawk blows across the sidewalk and lands between our feet. “Huge shit with the new Bill Callahan,” he says.

 

“So I see,” I reply.

 

“But not as huge as me on Maron,” he reiterates.

 

Then his manager or handler comes for him and he’s gone. I kind of space-out while this is happening, so I don’t register whether he’s gone back inside or into a car or what. Maybe he’s actually just walking away in a direction I’m not looking.

 

I take out my phone and search for “Big Pharmakos / Marc Maron.” Nothing comes up.

 

I type in “Huge Pharmakos / Marc Maron” and still nothing comes up — at least nothing but this post itself, which doesn’t help me much.

 

I can tell that the question of whether Big Pharmakos ever actually went on Maron will or has already become one of those questions you can never ask, like insisting on knowing too much about the personal life of the Historical Jesus instead of just drinking the wine and eating the crackers.

 

There are times when one would be forgiven for suspecting that no one in this town has an actual working Internet connection. Internets of misinformation, Internets of rumor, gossip, and opinion, Internets of plurality, abound, but any link to a system that would allow one to determine the one literal truth of any event … would be heretical even to speculate about.

 

*****

Realizing that I haven’t yet checked into a Room in the hotel, I go back in to the front desk.

 

After explaining my situation seven times — the first three the clerk simply stared, numbers four and five she laughed out loud, and number six she stared again — the clerk says, trying to control the incredulity in her tone, “Where the hell have you been? Don’t you know there’s a new Bill Callahan album out? Every room in the hotel is booked through the New Year!”

 

Tramping back outside, that Arby’s by the highway off-ramp catches my eye more than any Arby’s anywhere has before.

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Coming back through the outskirts.

 

The psychopomp has lapsed out of my midst and into ancient history.

 

The diner signs come on: BKFST is served.

 

I skip it, feeling unready, too tired, muddled of head, though if I were in there and it were placed before me, I would eat and gladly. It’s the going-in that I’m unready for. The tinkle of the bell on the door, the KENO cards and gum dispensers.

 

Through the window of one such diner I catch sight of Gottfried Benn, or think I do. I always only think I do when it comes to things/people like him.

 

Town is waking up like it’s been just another night among numerous.

 

I remember returning to Krakow years ago after a several-day music festival in the woods in some more distant Polish province … coming back on the train after having not slept for a run of nights, speaking pidgin German with old men at the station in the mid-a.m.’s, the feeling of piss gluing newspaper scraps to our shoes, chewing up the remains of a loaf of bread that was full of the consequences of balling up central crust-free bread balls and sucking them down over the course of several damp and beery days … then back in downtown Krakow, sun rising, fresh newspapers crowding the stations, commuters looking clean, bakeries opening up. I threw out the old bread and bought a new, steamy and still possessed of that smell, having not yet ceded it to atmosphere.

 

Then I balled up its insides too, tossed the husk, took a shower back wherever I was staying, and balled myself up under some covering to wink out and grope the netherworld for restoration.

 

*****

When I come to, I’m in the midst of a giant tag-sale of VHS tapes, components, copiers, and players.

 

There appear to be no DVDs, though one distant table that isn’t accessible by foot carries a selection of Laserdiscs.

 

I’d thought I was just approaching the edge of the Video Market, but now I’m well into its middle, surrounded by stocked tables, browsing hands and faces. (Must have been some residuals from the Krakow Vision that sucked me back in while I kept walking through external space thinking I was conscious of it.)

 

“Videos everywhere!!” I want to shout, but my stomach tells me and my throat confirms that my voice isn’t up to it.

 

The Video Market reminds me of a book I read about Robert Rodriguez and how, when he made the rough cut of El Mariachi, he’d planned to sell it to the Mexican Straight-to-Video Market. At the time (I was home sick from school), I pictured the Mexican Straight-to-Video Market as a sprawling encampment of folding tables, tents, idling trucks, shredded flags, and guys selling single cigarettes and cans of soda under a dust-colored sun on a stretch of cracked concrete with vultures and snakes rounding out the edges.

 

But, according to the Rodriguez book, Miramax got there first.

 

Here at last, where I am now, though a little ways from Mexico, is the Video Market that El Mariachi never made it to.

 

I start picking up boxes, looking at the ratings and the running times, as I have since my thumbs turned opposable. Seeing that big R on the back still does something for me.

 

They’re mostly 80s Erotic Thrillers like Body Heat, Body Double, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction, Sliver, Boxing Helena, Sleeping With The Enemy, and Body of Evidence (okay, that one’s from the 90s … maybe they all are).

 

The Lynch and Cronenberg sections have been pretty well-picked over — the Video Market must have started well before dawn, like a Fish Market — though the names LYNCH and CRONENBERG are represented by two hard-plastic skulls, full of candy and money and still glowing from the dark there recently was.

 

Moving on from this section I arrive at another.

 

Moving on from that one … another.

 

Finally, I arrive at one that’s interesting to me: DESERT, it’s called.

 

I touch the DESERT Videos, tasting a cider donut that has been placed in my hand or mouth. It nests in the beard that’s grown on me since I’ve been away.

 

There comes a subsection of DESERT Videos marked: SUICIDE SAM’S REJECTS / DEEPER INTO DESERT / DODGE CITY GENOCIDE. These pique my interest, for a mix of obvious and somewhat obvious reasons.

 

I work them around in my hands like pieces of athletic equipment or dumbed-down musical instruments, getting their hang. They’re unrated and of various running times.

 

I see myself and my erstwhile companion in the pictures on the backs of the boxes. I see Suicide Sam and even the psychopomp, in one of those star-shaped windows they used to always put on the backs of action movie boxes, usually showing a shootout, a crash, or a building blowing up.

 

There we all are.

 

I surmise one of three things:

 

1: Someone was filming us the whole time we were in the desert and has hastily cut the footage together into these Videos.

 

2: Someone jotted down everything we did and has somehow already scripted and shot a lookalike peopled series of reenactments for the Video Market, like on America’s Most Wanted.

 

3: Our journey was itself a reenactment of the journeys depicted in these Videos, and we are all the lookalikes whereas the actors are the originals … or at least the original lookalikes.

 

In other words (or “more words”), perhaps the whole journey was canonical, like a Bible story, and we were just one iteration of enactors among millions, like pilgrims on the road to Santiago.

 

I try to buy up a few copies but can’t produce the cash.

 

A vendor says he’ll sell me some on credit, but I don’t want to go there just now.

 

*****

The perusal leaves me feeling dirty.

 

The sense of having possibly reenacted an ancient Dodge City legend leaves me feeling dirty.

 

I commute this feeling of dirtiness into my shoes: they, I decide, are the dirty ones.

 

I drag them (and they me) out of the Video Market and over to where a young kid hangs around a shoeshine station.

 

I hunker back at a distance and observe him, and he me. He looks dead bored, like he hasn’t had a customer all day, maybe for many days.

 

He hefts his brush from one hand to another; I kick my shoes together, feeling how dirty they feel.

 

They are not only dirty with desert dirt but with the baggage of “4o Years in the Desert,” a trail of tears scuffing their leather.

 

I want them purged, polished clean, want no filth of Mythos attached to me when I go back into Dodge City proper.

 

The shoeshine kid — he looks barely eight; maybe he’s a runaway — sees me thinking, surely harder than most of his customers tend to think.

 

He looks averse.

 

I begin to approach.
I decide to tell him, “The usual,” and see where he takes it from there. I remember once, in New Orleans, when someone squirted tar onto my sandals and charged me to scrub it off, but I don’t envision this necessarily like that.

 

I almost get lost in thought halfway there, but I shake it off. “Just get there,” I think, and I do.

 

*****

I’m right up in the shoeshine kid’s face when he begins to panic.

 

“I’m just not ready!!” he shrieks, covering his face with his brush in one hand, his tin of oil in the other, spilling it down his cheeks and nose. “I thought I would be, but I’m not! It’s happening too quickly … it’s happening all at once!!”

 

I watch his breakdown and begin to have one of my own:

 

This mini-scene feels profoundly familiar, not like I’ve seen it before but like I’ve always known I would see it one day — not just one day, but actually TODAY … like my whole life has been a countdown to this scene here, today, me with DESERT on my shoes, this little kid sobbing that he’s not ready to give them a shine.

 

I feel like all I’ve ever done is kill time until this moment was ready to occur. Like every thought I’ve ever had has been only a distraction from this one.

 

I stand back and behold it, and the moment writes itself onto a VHS of its own. I look down at my hands and see that I have that VHS in one of them.

 

It’s called: THE SHOESHINE, and it’s Rated-R.

 

On the back of the VHS is a Post-it note. I turn it over.

 

It reads:

 

PURCHASED ON CREDIT / DEBT INCURRED.

 

WELCOME BACK TO DODGE CITY.

 

QED.