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.

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