Archives for the month of: October, 2013

BED REST following the Intestine Episode is cut short by the scheduled arrival of an Idol.

 

The baby that Stokoe Drifter sired is tucked away in some nursery or orphanage, attended by specialists and orderlies.

 

If we could have postponed it we would have, just to have a few extra days to lie low, but these things involve multiple towns and the amount of legwork required to disrupt the Idol from its scheduled tour is way beyond what any of us were up to undertaking.

 

In fact, it’s on a fixed circuit of 30 towns, which means it has, max., one day of leeway per month. In February, obviously enough, it has to hit, on average, more than one town per day.

 

Every town gets its turn. Ours is today.

 

The Idol is wheeled in by hooded underlings, big as a Trojan Horse except, instead of wooden and hollow and filled with spies, it’s blobular and gummy, solid, filled with despair and self-doubt.

 

Every citizen of Dodge City, except those living Underground and/or Off The Record, is assembled in the square (the same one in which the Intestine Episode played out — some of the cobblestones are still stained), yawning and shivering in the autumn chill, watching the Idol approach on its titanium casters.

 

The hooded underlings take a few minutes to stabilize it once it’s been rolled into position, anchored with a rope around the fountain in the dead center of the square like it has some astrological significance, something with the sun and the shadow of the clocktower and concentric circles and diametrically opposed shop windows mirroring each other.

 

Once the wobbly gelatinous mass is still enough to be safe-seeming, we separate into four lines of roughly equal length, each facing the Idol from a distinct direction, dividing 360 degrees into chunks of 90.

 

*****

WE WAIT in this formation until the underlings blow a whistle. They hereby Give the Go-Ahead, then disperse into the streets around the square, perhaps for a bite and a cup of coffee, or just to afford us some privacy.

 

One citizen from each of the four lines approaches the Idol, gagging and blowing out air, preparing mouth and throat for the bitter, gooey taste of what’s to come.

 

All four dive in, burying their faces in the mass of the Idol’s side, boring as far into that biology as it’ll let them.

 

I gag in sympathy, watching their heads disappear and then enough of their torsos that their feet lose ground and tip up into the air, kicking and dangling. A few kick so hard their shoes scramble off.

 

It’s dim weather out, hard to stay sharp in — my mind wanders over to 12 Years a Slave and a kind of yarn-ball of jealousy over the critical acclaim bestowed upon Steve McQueen unfurls in my system, quickly re-knotting in new and painful ways. I try to fight it but only end up, predictably, fighting myself.

 

I’m up next.

 

I’m fantasizing about my Gmail account, begging the universe for a story of mine to have been accepted somewhere, anywhere.

 

I would’ve missed my turn if someone hadn’t shoved me in the rib, sending me off-balance toward the Idol, tripping over the knot of jealousy over how far short of Steve McQueen’s my critical fate has so far fallen, which has wormed its way out of my body and is now hanging down like the tassels on a prayer shawl all over my crotch and thighs.

 

Propelled bodily by the rib-shove and mentally by this craven (and common enough) thought-welter, my face ends up in the Idol’s side.

 

The familiar bitter putty taste seeps out to receive me. It spreads my mouth open as surely as a thumb and forefinger squeezing my nose.

 

All the insecurity of the past few minutes serves me well now: I’ve been adequately prostrated on the threshold, brought to my knees in advance of coming face-to-face with it.

 

I wriggle further in, arms pinned to my sides like when I was five and fat and stuck in the tunnel of a snow fort that had become an ice fort overnight.

 

The claustrophobia sets in as the Idol’s blob material forces its way down my throat, covering my tongue with a tongue of its own, stretching all the way into my esophagus to the point where it blots out all other sensation and opens the pathways of thought:

 

Maybe I’m really, truly not good enough, I think.

 

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to see this — any of this, anything I’m working on — through.

 

Maybe I have the vision but not the chops, simple as that.

 

Maybe I’ll aspire forever, or even give that up, settle for fandom and a kind of select regional knowledge.

 

I mean, what do I know about what it really, like, really, takes?

 

These thoughts rush into me, pumped in from the belly of the Idol, whose sole purpose is to pump us all full of these thoughts, once every thirty days without fail throughout the year.

 

A lot of people can think it up, but only a very, very few can do it for real. Why believe you’re one of them? The thoughts continue, same every time.

 

What indication is there?

 

The Idol slowly and expertly ratchets up the tension, building to the brink of the unbearable. This is what it’s been called to town to do. This is what it is, living proof of the possibility that I am not — that none of us are — the genius I so miserably want to be and, twenty-nine days out of thirty, am mostly able to behave as if I believed I were.

 

The kind of belief that lets you move forward with work that no one else is forcing you to do.

 

I feel internal bleeding everywhere from my ribs on up, and a black soupy mucus pouring down into my stomach as the reality hits me full on: I might genuinely, truly, and, worst of all, simply, not be cut out for it. Not when you seriously size up the competition.

 

I mean, c’mon.

 

And maybe it’s your fault, whispers the Idol, beginning to ease its tongue out of my gut. Maybe you just don’t want it enough. Maybe, years ago, you took a long, sober look at what it actually takes and thought to yourself … eh, I dunno …

 

*****

Finally it pulls its tongue the rest of the way out me. I can feel life returning to my arms, which begin morosely swimming back out of the blob’s interior, pushing back toward the open air of Dodge City.

 

Back on the cobblestones, it’s dark and, compared to where I’ve just been, frighteningly dry and cold.

 

I hang my head low, dog-like, and saunter off to a bar to knock a few back and try to thaw out from the High Sabbath.

 

The bar is full of people who’ve just undergone the same ordeal, all of us shaken in our resolve, our homunculi unseated from their habitual thrones.

 

Each of us drinks like we’re the only one there. Even the bartender looks like he’s asking himself what the point is.

 

When the place gets full enough and some of the taps start running out, I picture the hooded underlings untying the Idol’s anchor from the fountain and wheeling it away through the dark, back through the Outskirts and on to the next town, stopping somewhere unseen to pass the night.

 

I wonder whether they sleep inside or beside it, and all at once or in shifts. And whether they keep their hoods on even when it’s only them and too dark to see.

 

*****

When I get back to my Room, I open my Internet browser: several Email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Pitchfork, The Dissolve, The AV Club, Netflix, and Hulu, along with the Events Schedules of at least five music and comedy venues.

 

Several minutes later, I open my novel draft, thick with several years’ worth of dust and tract marks, odious even to glance at.

 

Then, not to put too fine a point on things, I ask myself what sort of man I am.

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The whole thing from last week with the image of Prof. Dalton on the balcony merging into an image of Spinoza holding forth from an apartment in Old Jewish West Palm Beach — there’s a story there, but I’ll save it.

 

It was what I was going to tell before this old guy’s intestine crept out his side and a whole more vivid lore sprung up around that.

 

All the papers reporting on the event used the phrase “crept out” as if by some consensus designed to euphemize what must, in reality, have been fraught with a kind of genuine violence (I mean, the thing had to’ve broken the guy’s side-skin somehow), and to express the obvious: that it crept them — and us — out as well.

 

So there he is, a retired tractor mechanic named Murph, pushing 80, sitting in a lawn chair in the center of town with a good two feet of intestine pouring out his left side, submerged in a bath of saltwater on a foldout table beside him.

 

He came in around sunup one morning, straight into the Country Doctor’s home office, the length of intestine bunched up in a pizza box under his jacket. Woke the Dr. up, asked to go out back with him, under a drainpipe, someplace private, then popped open the box and laid out what the situation was.

 

“I see,” said the Country Doctor, coughing into the handkerchief he habitually coughed into.

 

He reportedly went on to say, “I know just what to do,” but the reports either go cold or diverge there … and now here Murph is, propped in the square with his intestine in saltwater, a long line of people stretching away from him.

 

I think there was a day — at least a morning — when Murph got to sit there alone, practicing breathing, fingering the hole in his side, trying to get used to the pain and the texture, plaintively squeezing out shit onto the cobblestones.

 

BEFORE the first Sipper showed up.

 

Maybe it was only an hour. Certainly by the time I’d heard about it and went down there to check it out, the line was long.

 

People were taking turns leaning in, hoisting the intestine out of its saltwater, moistening their lips, and sticking it into their mouths, sucking out whatever they could get.

 

Murph looked glazed and absent after the first few Sippers had taken their turns, like once it’d been purged of whatever physical shit was present in its tract his body had gone on to offer up deeper and more vital things, closer to the core that was keeping it afoot.

 

Of course this only attracted Sippers on a grander scale: the Shit Sipper may be a rare breed, but the Vitality Sipper is nearly everyone.

 

Even kids were lining up, jockeying to go first, stuffing the intestine down their throats and trying to siphon as much as they could get, like Murph was some kind of animal gas pump.

 

You start to see men and women taking victory laps around the square after they’ve sucked their share, showing off their juiced muscles and looking like they feel ten years younger.

 

*****

It wasn’t long until a couple of Barkers showed up and started charging.

 

Whatever flux Dodge City may be subject to, the nearness of willing Barkers is never in question.

 

So there they were and by the time I’d waited my turn tickets had leveled off at $35 and the intestine was pretty clearly tapped out. Murph lolled, or canted, to the right, away from the intestine, like his body wanted to separate what was left of itself from the mouths that’d been sucking it dry.

 

I paid up and stepped past the rope the Barkers had set up, inside the place where it would happen.

 

I did a kind of bellydance as several waves of nausea rocked me, one after the other, causing me to retch but not quite spew. I wiped my lips on my collar, then nodded that I was ready.

 

One of the Barkers hoisted the intestine out of its brine, shook the end to dry it off, and handed it over to me. I looked at it, greenish blue and bloody at the end where hundreds of teeth had been at it.

 

I lick my lips, breathe out through my nose, and stuff it in my mouth.

 

Rubbery as I’d feared, but no worse. Like a tough marinated mushroom. It tastes silty, like underwater dirt and pebbles, like this frog I chewed on sometimes when I was a kid.

 

I breathe in, trying to get a feed going. Nothing but gas comes out. I work its end with my teeth. Murph’s groans sound far away. I may be dizzier than I think I am.

 

I try once more, suck down more gas, swampy as a hot spring, and then the Barkers yell Time!

 

*****

That someone would sooner or later fuck the intestine is a given.

 

When someone finally does, it’s almost perfunctory, like he’s only doing it because no one else has and someone’s got to.

 

That said, though, he’s not your ordinary dude. To pick him out of a largish crowd of men most likely to fuck an exposed intestine would not be a tremendously difficult feat of discernment.

 

Ten or twelve miles out of town there’s a wide, marshy expanse known to farmers as Matthew Stokoe’s Mind, a fishy stew of acts and images of undeniable fecundity but debatable salubriousness. Nevertheless, there are those farmers who plant and harvest there, especially sugar beets and cabbage, and have been doing so for generations, to their apparent profit and everyone else’s obvious disgust.

 

Produce at the supermarket is supposed to be marked with a special sticker when it comes from Matthew Stokoe’s Mind, but regulations have loosened in recent years.

 

Sometime in the night, in possible homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a man rises from it, covered in steam, bile, slime, and — Stokoe’s favorite word — glit.

 

Scraping it off his body, fully naked, he stomps into town, appearing in the square just after noon on the third day of Murph’s story.

 

He approaches the Barkers, hard-on in hand like a credential, and is let through with no request for payment.

 

Everyone is a bit dazed today, weary from the fumes that are basically all that’s left in Murph’s intestine, but Stokoe Drifter’s appearance grabs and holds our attention.

 

He steps right up to it, hoisting it out of its saltwater, and stretches it open and closed a few times. Murph rolls his head in the direction of what’s happening but manages no legible reaction.

 

Stokoe Drifter yawns, then stretches the intestine end even wider and fits it around the end of his cock, working it snug while standing still, rather than holding it still and pushing in.

 

It takes a moment, but soon the material of the intestine appears to be growing straight out of his groin.

 

He yawns again, apparently only somewhat invested in what he’s doing. He moves back and forth, one hand holding the intestine to keep the seal from breaking.

 

When he comes he yawns again, rocking on his heels for a few moments.

 

Then, still synced up, he stands on his tiptoes and angles the intestine downward, to make sure all the come flows down into it rather than spilling out on the ground when he disconnects.

 

*****

After Stokoe Drifter’s departure, the intestine left hanging on the cobblestones rather than placed back in its brine bath, none of us has a next move planned.

 

We kind of disperse, like we need to take some time.

 

*****

BUT it’s not over.

 

No one wants to touch or go near Murph; I think we all (I know I do) hope he’ll just die.

 

But that’s not what goes down. What goes down is, after a day, a little nubbin, like a bulb, starts to grow at the end of the intestine. It caps it off, closing the aperture.

 

This growth seems to bring him back to life, and, by noon the second day, he’s calling out for burgers and fries in a voice loud and clear enough that no one in downtown Dodge City can legitimately claim to be unable to hear him.

 

So burgers and fries, and a case of beers and a bag of Peanut Butter cups, are brought down and placed within Murph’s reach, behind the ropes that the Barkers set up and never took down.

 

No one can ignore the fact that the end of the intestine has gone head-shaped.

 

Murph gorges on fat and carbs and, mouth full, bellows for more, which he gets.

 

We all stand pretty still for several days as the head at the end of the intestine swells further, growing an ass and a torso, and protruding out into what no one can deny look a lot like arms and legs, then even fingers and toes.

 

The consistency of the intestine is changing too, going whitish and reddish, losing its blue-green hue. The growth on the end shifts around so that its head is now free and the point of connection is at its belly.

 

I wasn’t going to be the first to drop the word PLACENTA, but soon it’s out.

 

This goes on another day, a pile of burger and candy wrappers and beer cans surrounding Murph where he sits, the baby growing and growing, eating its way closer to him.

 

There’s a poignant moment near the end where Murph turns his head (which had been averted all this time) to stare at the baby face-to-face, recognizing that baby’s face for the first time. It’s as if the baby is his own self reiterated, a guest born from the energy of its host’s death.

 

*****

WHAT DO THINGS leave when they’re over?

 

In this case, a baby bawling in a mass of spent placenta atop its dead parent.

 

Someone dons a couple of gloves and steps in to extract it.

 

Dodge City has its newest citizen. We huddle around and gape. Questions of naming and foster care can’t be far off, but they haven’t hit us yet.

Back in my Room at the Hotel, at odds with my rented-out House, I have been somewhat unscrupulous with my schedule this past while. I browse the Rupert Thomson section at the bookstore but can’t quite get it up to make a move.

 

I try to ask someone something but they don’t aver to know and I don’t know who they are.

 

So I move some time sleuthing around, trying to establish what kind of city Dodge City actually is, as if I hadn’t passed through this phase long ago, the first time I came here and moved into the Room, which, when I moved out, I didn’t think I’d ever end up back inside of, but here I am, or will shortly be, unless I want to spend another night on the boat launch by Park Pond in Pond Park.

 

Dodge City was newer to me then, but its sum inexplicability has either never waned or else it’s been steadily and sub rosa replenished. The question of whether I’m reenacting my earliest days here or if these days are simply still those is a question for someone else, Rupert Thomson perhaps, whoever he really is.

 

Some mornings I feel like a planner casing a plot of undeveloped land, trying to decide whether a city should be built here at all. Other mornings, I get that feeling where I wonder if the whole place wasn’t razed and rebuilt almost but not quite exactly the same while I was away in the Desert.

 

*****

I discover from chatting up butchers that the Hereditary Cannibalism is back.

 

It’s deep in the genetics here, in the sense that everyone has it and no one can deny or overcome it, but it’s not deep in the sense of being buried far from the surface: it rears its hungry head every few years, I’m told, like one of those off-cycle cacti or like a mutation that has confused generations for years, expressing itself numerous times within the lifespan of each individual, rather than only sometimes in the lifespan of an ongoing family.

 

These butchers go on to sum up how it usually goes, which is also how it went this time:

 

The Cannibalism surfaces in adolescents first, borne on the backs of the standard hormones, parlaying sex into violence in classic camp fashion, sending them off eating their younger siblings and grandparents, those at the extreme age ends of the inner circle, plaguewise.

 

Before they start eating their parents — to whom it has by now spread, so that they’re growing hard to restrain in their own right — Tom the Knacker bumbles out to the Suicide Cemetery and digs up whatever fresh-enough, non-poisoned new arrivals he can, hauling them with the help of some volunteers out into the town square, a movement roughly opposite to that, historically, of the Plague Cart.

 

A Pit BBQ is set up — rubs, brines, basters … hardly matters to the Hereditary Cannibalism, but to the people it’s expressing itself through … maybe it does. There is still such a thing as taste.

 

So they latch the intact bodies to spits with screws in their shoulders and hips and the spit itself run straight through pig-style, and shave those less intact down into Burnt Ends and Pulled Pork.

 

Certain Sauce Maestros only turn up on these occasions, mirthful after years of peddling lesser wares on the peripheries.

 

Those whom the Hereditary Cannibalism has affected most severely are permitted to eat some raw, if it’s that bad, and are given first dibs once some’s been cooked.

 

The leftovers, humped up in the walk-in of the Wayfarer’s Tavern, last a few days, long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another.

 

*****

Long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another until what? you might well ask,” the butchers tell me.

 

I shrug: they’ve got me there.

 

“Long enough for our first fresh batch of Human Bologna to firm up good,” is the answer.

 

“What, like Delicatessen?” I ask.

 

They snort. “Nope. That’s kid stuff. This is a weaning-tool. A respectable substitute. Animal meat, straight up, and poultry, and fish, reptile, and so forth, what-have-you, and other proteins, yolky things, raisins, cashews, doesn’t matter: a meat to come next best to the Fellow Man once the Pit BBQ cools its jets and the Sauce Maestros saunter back to whence they came.”

 

I nod like I get the picture, sniffing the air for some sign of what’s in question.

 

“Weans the Hereditary Cannibalism back down … eases ‘er back into remission for a few more years,” say the butchers, sadly now. “Back to rest in the genetics.”

 

“This is what we see as our actual work. Transcendentally speaking. The rest of the time, all the years, slivering off chuck and pimento loaf, tubbing out potato salad … all just stalling, keeping afloat, thinking how we’ll make the next batch of the real thing when the time comes … Human Bologna’s an ancient Dodge City recipe, as old as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself, and intimately bound up with it in ways I’m sure a man of your breeding and education can guess at already.” 

 

They look down in reverence at the paper-towel lined tray of Human Bologna in the display case, only about a quarter hunk left. The rest of the case is empty; the tags for other meats are piled up.

 

“What, so it’s like Cannibal Nicorette?” I ask.

 

For a while, no one answers. Then the butchers hand me a sandwich, wrapped in wax paper and napkins.

 

I hear the bell on the door of the shop and can tell that I’ve made my way out.

 

*****

I eat my sandwich back in the main square, where the Bill Callahan booths were, and then the Pit BBQ.

 

It tastes about how you’d expect.

 

I lick my gums; should’ve gotten a soda somewhere, a water at least.

 

“Sometimes, it’s too convincing.”

 

I hear the words but don’t see their source.

 

“Sometimes, we conflate the Real with its Simulation. Sometimes we swap Disease and Cure, and swap them again, and again, as if it were our right to go on swapping.”

 

I look around, see no speaker on my eye level, so I look up.

 

There he is: Professor Dalton on a high balcony at the Hotel, bellowing through a bullhorn. A crowd gathers around the site of the Pit BBQ.

 

“Sometimes the human essence proves incompressible. Sometimes we cannot forget it. Sometimes we know who we are and what we are made of … and the taste lives upon our lips and tongues.”

 

So this is The Human Bologna Scare. I crinkle my sandwich paper and listen.

 

“Sometimes The Fundamentally Human is unmistakable no matter how finely ground and how much subterfuge is employed to disguise its presence within an alien host. With our palettes as judge, let us swallow no lies about our kin! Human Bologna is what it is called and also what it is, it is no euphemism. Where are our friends? Our lovers? Our elders? Our infants? Let us clean ourselves in deed this time, not only in word. Let us hose ourselves down with the truth one time. Let us revert to animal meat forever more!!”

 

The man never misses an opportunity to pop up, let it be said.

 

He says his piece, to my ear, with enough polish that I’m inclined to believe this sort of thing has occurred before. Perhaps every year the fear that Human Bologna is indeed human meat surfaces in the citizenship, as regularly as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself.

 

A phrase like I feel sick, in reference to what I’ve just eaten in light of what I’m now thinking, occurs to me, but isn’t precisely true. I feel the same as I tend to after lunch.

 

 

 

“That’s Spinoza, up on a Mountaintop,” says Rigid Steve, gliding into position behind me, looking up at the pontificating man on the balcony.

 

I’ve been here long enough to not reply, “No, that’s Dalton, up on a balcony.”

 

I’ve been here so long I almost don’t even think it.