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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