Archives for posts with tag: David Lynch

DR. GENTLE AND I spent the first week of our allotted production month spitballing in my (our) Room.

 

“It could be a … ”

 

“No,” I’d say.

 

“What about a … ”

 

“No,” I’d say.

 

“Oh, I know … what if we had these two … ”

 

“No,” I’d say, growing frustrated with him, and by extension myself, since I’d so far failed to come up with anything better.

 

Room Service trays piled up around us and my bill at the Front Desk became one more thing I was refusing to think about.

 

Every day around 4, Dr. Gentle would ask if he could go to the health center and blow off steam, and I’d say, “No,” then regret it, then a few minutes later say, “Ok, fine.”

 

I’d watch English-dubbed Kurosawa films on pay-per-view while he was gone, one eye on the duffel bag of cash, half-expecting it to turn on me after so long unused. I could picture it climbing out of its shell and onto the bed, somehow wet, dripping green sludge, forcing me to eat my inability to spend it.

 

Dr. Gentle would come back sweating and happy and ask, “what did I miss?” and I’d point to the TV screen, where usually the first Kurosawa would just be ending, or the second ramping up.

 

*****

THIS FALLOW PERIOD COMES TO A FORCED END when Dalton calls on the Room’s landline and says, “The kids are getting picked over. If you want any, I’d suggest you get yourself to the school today.”

 

This gets through to me. “Why don’t you watch something,” I tell Dr. Gentle. “I’m going down to the health club to blow off steam.”

 

By the time I come back, flushed and grateful — does one ever regret going to the gym? — there’s no time to shower before the school closes, which Dalton has called back to inform Dr. Gentle is at 3pm sharp.

 

So, sweaty and spent, I grab a Powerbar from the kiosk in the lobby and we hurry across town.

 

The school’s abandoned, though whether this is just because it’s summer I can’t say. I’ve never thought about life in Dodge City in quite those terms before.

 

Nevertheless, we push our way inside, following the yellow paper signs on the wall that read CASTING with arrows pointing first to the left and then, after rounding a corner, to the right.

 

We come down a half-flight of stairs into a cavern with a more permanent sign outside that reads ART ROOM in English and Braille. Posters of waterlilies, haystacks, and Picasso, shirtless and feral in his studio, adorn the walls.

 

No one’s around, not even Dalton, whom I’d somehow expected to see here. No one but six glum children sitting on carpet squares inside a wire enclosure like bored llamas, surrounded by wrappers and crumbs.

 

They barely look up when we enter and begin to circle.

 

“So which one’s you?” Dr. Gentle asks, after we’ve seen them from every angle.

 

I stop short, clear my throat. “Excuse me?”

 

Dr. Gentle shrugs and does one of his self-deprecating smiles. “Nothing … I just meant, er, don’t you want to cast one of them as you and the others as your friends, so the movie can be about your years growing up in Dodge City?”

 

I can’t tell if Dr. Gentle actually thinks I’m from here or if he’s just having this idea now, but it’s the smartest thing either of us has said since this whole process began. It only seems obvious because it should have been.

 

“Oh, right. That’s what I meant,” I say. “That’s exactly what I had in mind.”

 

Dr. Gentle shrugs, seemingly happy for me to take credit. “How about this one? Were you a fat kid?”

 

He points to a fat kid in goldenrod corduroys and a purple shirt with a dinosaur egg hatching over its front pocket.

 

Was I a fat kid? I can barely remember. Then I think, yes. Yes, I guess I was. I must’ve been.

 

“Okay, you,” I point at the fat kid. He doesn’t respond until I walk directly into his line of vision and snap my fingers. Then he yawns and leaves his mouth open.

 

“What?” he says, his voice high and phlegmy.

 

“You, you’re cast. You’re gonna be in a movie! Isn’t that great?”

 

He yawns again and begins to pick his nose.

 

I feel myself losing my cool and decide to leave the area before I lash out. “Bag him up, Dr. Gentle.”

 

“What?” Dr. Gentle asks, pulling me back from the precipice of mania.

 

“I mean, here, give him this and tell him he’s hired.” I pull five 20’s from the duffel bag and hand them over.

 

It’s exciting to feel anger rise in me, approaching the edges of my body without going over. As if I were capable of the kind of hyper-masculine rage I’ve seen Blut Branson exhibit. As if, all along, that had been latent somewhere within me.

 

I wait by the rotten-smelling milk cooler, trying to remember my own school days, wherever they were, whatever the schoolhouse looked like then. Did I ever have art class?

 

 

*****

BACK AT THE HOTEL, we install the fat kid and the three others we’ve hired in the health center, abandoned except for a custodian refilling the water cooler who hurries away when he sees us.

 

“Okay,” Dr. Gentle says, hoisting the duffel bag with our cash onto his shoulder, appointing himself its de facto guardian. “So let’s start blocking out scenes.”

 

I try to think back on what in Amarcord moves me most. The deranged man in the tree, the peacock in the snow, the Grand Hotel the townspeople are never allowed to enter …

 

“Okay,” I tell the fat kid. “Let’s rehearse a scene where you’re in your room, dreading another indoors summer alone with your Primal Father, when you hear that your cousins will be visiting from California this year.”

 

Now I see the direction my film will take: it’ll be an origin story arguing for the legitimacy of my presence in this town, making it seem as though this were the site of my upbringing and gradual coming of age.

 

A propaganda film, in a sense.

 

There’s something I have to shore up here, some backstory for myself that I have to get clear on before going any farther into time, and this seems like the place to start. If I tell my story convincingly enough, I might come to believe it. And then I’ll know who I am.

 

And by knowing who I am, maybe I’ll finally know what to do.

 

*****

“LET’S FIND SOME CREEKBEDS,” I say after our third day of rehearsals, mustering Dr. Gentle and the crew out of the health center and into the parking lot behind the Hotel. “Some cornfields. A candy store. A comics store. The old train station where I used to sit on lazy Saturday afternoons and wait for the Silver Bullet to roll through. The rack where I used to wait salivating for the new month’s dime novels to be unloaded off the truck. The ones I read in a day and stuffed under my bed, into a paper-mass slowly growing into a lifelong imaginary friend. All the halcyon signifiers of a ruddy American childhood in some imagined Dodge City of the 50’s, gathered here at last, all in one place, projected across the drive-in screen for all to see.”

 

I stop to catch my breath, expecting something to happen. When nothing does, I clear my throat. “I’ll scout locations with the kids,” I say. “You go to Town Hall and get the equipment from Dalton. We’ll meet at the fairgrounds at seven.”

 

Dr. Gentle nods.

 

We depart, the fat kid who’ll play me followed by three others — two girls and a boy, who will play my cousin Anne, my cousin Denny, and my best friend Corinne, all names and roles I’ve made up on the spot.

 

*****

OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS, we film the canonical scenes, all set during the summer when my cousins and my best friend and I were all between 9 and 13, and we had the experiences that made us who we then became. In my case, this meant creeping out of the shadow of my Primal Father and into the loose but authentic skin of my future self, a sentient, autonomous being at large in an entropic universe.

 

The Rubicon Summer, after which none of us would be the same.

 

With Dr. Gentle behind the camera and managing sound, I direct the kids in poignant scenes of loss and discovery — they see their first dead body, crushed under a trailer at the back of the fairgrounds; their first sexually-entwined couple, on a bench we drag to the center of an otherwise abandoned clearing in the woods to one side of the park at the edge of town; they try alcohol in the lot behind Giant Chinese, sipping at a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam we plant in a trashcan for them to find; they discuss ghosts and eternal life while lying under the stars by the edge of the dry canal that runs through town (which we refill for the sake of the shoot); they meet a wildman with a permanent erection and glowing red eyes scuttling from rooftop to rooftop in the most trailer-trash part of the Outskirts; they find a suitcase full of money (all the 20’s from our production budget wrapped around stacks of 1’s) in the burned-out hulk of a Volkswagen and have to decide what to do, devolving into mutually deceitful factions when no consensus can be reached; and, finally, they skinny dip together in Meyers Pond, leaping into the air on the count of three to display their nascent genitalia for a split second, concretizing their heretofore fluid notions of sexual difference, the harsh reality of being one thing or the other.

 

At the end of the summer — the end of the Movie — they go to the circus one last time, walking past the rides in the early autumn twilight as the clowns and trapeze artists break down the tents and pull up the stakes, preparing to say goodbye.

 

When the new school year begins, my cousins will go back to Petaluma while my best friend Corinne is moving away with her parents on short notice. Even she barely knows why, or where. Somewhere up north … Misconsin, Winnesota … something like that, as we called them then.

 

Leaving me alone to grow up in Dodge City with only my memories of this one magical, melancholy summer to speed through middle and then high school in the House of my Father, and then into adulthood, through odd jobs and debt and uncertainty, eventually to take up the mantle of filmmaking, first as a fledgling, trying out techniques, searching for my voice … and then, finally, as the Greatest Director this town has ever known, a force of nature fit to take on the legacy of Blut Branson himself, to …

 

“Okay? Should I turn this off? Um … I’m turning it off now?”

 

I look up and see Dr. Gentle powering the camera and mics down. Still high on my Branson fantasy, part of me wants to scream at him to keep filming, but I resist. He’s done nothing wrong. The film’s wrapped. I’ve made my Amarcord, cementing myself into the Dodge City past as firmly as I ever will.

 

I nod. “Let’s get these kids some Dairy Queen then send them on their way.”

 

*****

THE DAY OF THE FILM FESTIVAL ARRIVES.

 

After a frantic week of editing in the A/V room at the school, helped by some old man whose name I never learned but whom I referred to privately as ‘my beloved first film teacher,‘ we have a rough cut ready to screen.

 

Unsurprisingly, it’s accepted into the Festival, along with everyone else’s.

 

The surprise is that it was selected to screen first. The Opening Night gala. Black Tie, Red Carpet.

 

Dr. Gentle and I dress up in rented tuxes and get to the drive-in early, ready to field interviews and pose for pictures, but aside from two reporters from the Dodge City Eagle who ask us where we get our ideas, there’s not much doing.

 

Many of the food and drink vendors from the last time we all gathered here are back, or here still. Everyone’s milling around, eating meat off dripping paper plates.

 

Then it’s time to begin. Dalton strides through the grass in front of the screen, takes a cordless mic from his suit pocket and says, “Alright folks, here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The time for our collective mythology to be refreshed. The long draught of Branson’s absence is over. The dawn of the New Branson is nigh. Please enjoy.”

 

He turns off the mic, slips it back in his suit pocket, and walks back into the grass as my film starts up.

 

*****

FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF, I’m the closest thing Dodge City has to a genuine Fellini. My vision matters, my version of childhood touches the canon and begins to redefine in.

 

It’s an incredible rush. It’s like everything I’ve worked for all these years is coming to fruition. Like I’m passing through the narrow gateway between being no one and being someone.

 

I’m so deep inside this feeling that by the time I hear my name, I have the feeling that Dalton’s been calling it for a while.

 

I snap to, rolling to my feet when I sense that he’s motioning me into the circle of light beneath the screen.

 

When I get there, he claps me on the back and produces a second mic from his other suit pocket.

 

I take it and tap its head to test if it’s on. It is.

 

“Well, that was just extraordinary,” he says. “I had no idea you were from here.”

 

I nod, then say, a little timidly, “Yeah.”

 

“Well, I’m sure the audience has questions. Why don’t we cut right to the chase here and open it up to … ”

 

AS I REMEMBER IT, this is the exact instant when I look out on the crowd and see, instead of hundreds of rapt faces, a tall lurking madman in torn jeans and a cowboy shirt.

 

He’s like the raving king from Kurosawa’s Ran, his beard tattered and white, his eyes full of hate and hellish vision.

 

Branson, I think. Back from the Desert.

 

“H-h-hi Blut,” I stammer into the mic, just before he grabs it out of my hand and pushes me back into the screen.

 

The crowd is riveted on him like a field of sunflowers on the sun as he clears his throat and begins to speak. “You’re all probably wondering where I was. I know it’s been a while. I did time in Dead Sir. I went down in that swamp and did some thinking. I came to some conclusions. I got my strength back.”

 

Here he pulls off his cowboy shirt and his jeans, and then, naked, begins to peel his skin away, starting with his face and working his way down. It comes off like wet paper, piling up by his feet.

 

Beneath, he’s thin, strong, young, wearing a sleek tailored suit and white sneakers.

 

Probably younger than me, I think.

 

“I saw things down there,” he continues, his voice supple and fresh now. “On my film set in the Desert, and then down in Dead Sir. I got some things straight in my mind.”

 

He kicks the pulp of his old self into the grass. I can smell its porky reek from where I stand propped against the screen.

 

“I came to understand that what all of you here, tonight, consider to be the real Dodge City is nothing but a simulacrum. A Movie set at best. A version of someone’s memory of Dodge City that you’ve all tried to convince yourselves is real. I believed it too once, but no more. No! No, I tell you tonight. This is not the real Dodge City. This is the traitor’s Dodge City. The American Babylon.”

 

Here he turns to look at me, unrepressed violence in his eyes.

 

The return of the Primal Father, grown superpotent, I think, remembering my Freud, or my Lacan, whoever it was that said that way back when, in a book I read on a bus, or in a bus station, once. If you knock me down, you better kill me, says the Primal Father in a rare moment of weakness. Because if you don’t, I’ll come back twice as strong and three times as angry.

 

“No, good people. The Real Dodge City, the genuine one, the one you all deserve to live in, where life is good and full of meaning and still in its early days, is in the Deep Desert, past the horizon, past Dead Sir. Follow me and I will lead you there. Follow me now.”

 

With that he drops the mic and strides back through the grass.

 

As he goes, the people — my audience — rise entranced to their feet and fall in line behind him, their backs to the screen.

 

I watch them go, Dr. Gentle among them. He was only ever in it for the Desert travel, I think. He was never tied to me in particular.

 

Even the kids who played me and my cousins in the Movie follow. Even Dalton follows. Even Big Pharmakos, who I’m just now noticing in the crowd, follows.

 

Soon it’s just me and the pulp of Branson’s old body, left in the shadow of the empty drive-in screen.

 

*****

SO THIS IS MY KINGDOM, I think. My dominion.

 

I have won the mythic struggle, I tell myself, as I walk out of the drive-in field and into the empty lots and warehouses of Branson Entertainments.

 

I explore the sound stages, the mixing boards, the recording booths. The intake room where I was interviewed before my location-scouting mission to Kazakhstan.  The means of production are mine, I think. All of this, relinquished, left in my charge.

 

I am the Minotaur in the labyrinth.

 

Emboldened by this thought, I show myself into the office where Branson made all his directorial decisions, modeled after the glass enclosure where the dwarf-director in Mulholland Dr. sat in his wheelchair and commanded his goons.

 

I get in the wheelchair now — Branson-sized, naturally — and lean back, putting my lips to the microphone that wraps around the chair’s edge.

 

I clear my throat and whisper, “Play.”

 

The entire wall across from me lights up and begins to boil with static. Closing my eyes, I imagine I’m watching a Movie detailing my future here in Dodge City, just as my Amarcord detailed my past.

 

In this future Movie — entitled The Real Blut Branson — I am the great exalted visionary and Dodge City is full of my acolytes, the false Branson abandoned in the Desert, cast off as the charlatan he is and always was, my flock returned to me, my eminence unquestioned now, beyond usurpation.

 

I nod off. When I wake up, the Movie’s over. Yawning and stretching without leaving the chair, I clear my throat and whisper “Rewind.”

 

 

END VOL 2.

Advertisements

THERE’S NO QUESTION THAT THE TIME TO ABANDON WHAT I’D BRIEFLY REFERRED TO AS “MY FILM SET” HAS ARRIVED. Even if Blut Branson hadn’t commandeered it quite so aggressively, the simple fact of his presence would in short order have goaded me into leaving.

 

So here I go.

 

Head hung, I march into the distance, leaving him to make whatever he will of the set I’d once hoped would serve as the locus of my feature film debut.

 

Ashamed, as usual, of my cowardice, I decide to cross the entire desert. If I make it to the far side, I figure I’ll be glad to emerge into whatever place happens to be there.

 

All I know is I’m not going back to Dodge City, at least not willingly.

 

Maybe, I think, as the last lights of Branson’s set vanish behind me, I’ll manage to leave this part of the country for good, thereby setting a new adventure in motion … one that, I hope, will have little or nothing to do with the Dodge City Film Industry.

 

Or any film industry at all. Those days are — if I have any say in the matter — well and truly behind me.

 

I walk in a straight line for what feels like longer than all night, but there’s no shift in the dark overhead. I’m hoping this isn’t the kind of desert where it’s night all the time.

 

*****

TIME TO SLEEP. I find a declivity in the sand and settle into it, staring up at a sliver of moon.

 

As soon as my eyes droop shut, I feel a pair of hands tugging at my sleeve. I keep my eyes closed, hoping it’ll go away if I don’t acknowledge it. But this only works in certain stories I’ve read, and maybe in other parts of the country, in other deserts.

 

Not here. My sleeve goes on being tugged until I open my eyes.

 

When I do, I see a mild-looking, grey-haired man wearing a headlamp. It illuminates his features like the text on a page under a flashlight. ‘Mild through and through’ is my read on him — ‘a  man either with no malice whatsoever in his system, or with malice so deeply buried and so well integrated it casts no shadow on his surface.’

 

Defenseless as I am, I decide to assume the former.

 

“Dr. Gentle.” He extends his hand. I take it and he tries to pull me up, but he’s too weak. I end up pulling him down instead. I close my eyes against his headlamp’s glare and crawl out from under him, get to my feet, and then help him to his.

 

When we’re both standing, he laughs and adjusts his headlamp. “Phew,” he says. “For a minute there, I lost myself.”

 

I tell him not to worry, though I can’t say he’s made a heroic first impression.

 

“Look.” He points his headlamp at a tethered donkey, which moans at the dawning awareness that soon it will be responsible for two riders.

 

Though I’d like to ask where he’s headed and make a show of considering whether to travel there with him, I’m not exactly in a position to act like I have a route of my own mapped out.

 

So I climb aboard, behind Dr. Gentle, and off we go, our donkey wheezing pitifully beneath us, one of us Sancho to the other’s Quixote, though I can’t yet say which is which.

 

*****

AS WE SLOG ONWARD, the sun starts to rise in the distance. I have the suspicion that it isn’t cresting the horizon on its way toward overtaking the sky, as usual, but rather that we’re approaching a country where it’s always day, leaving the one where it’s always night behind.

 

I decide to keep this suspicion to myself.

 

“So, Dr. Gentle,” I say, hoping to change the subject, “what exactly’s your deal?”

 

“Well,” he begins, turning around on the donkey to face me, “people around here call me the Gentile Cronenberg.”

 

Around where? I think. But I just raise my eyebrows, encouraging him to go on.

 

“As you likely know,” he goes on, “all souls are divided at birth between Jewish and Gentile aspects. These are not, as has been popularly assumed, singular properties that manifest in individuals to the exclusion of the other. At least not at first. Before a soul reaches maturity, there is a pitched battle between these two manifestations. Only one can achieve dominance.”

 

“And the other?”

 

His face slackens under a weight of sadness. “The other, well, exists in a sort of under-expressed limbo. A half-life, you might say. A living byproduct of the process by which a soul becomes most fully what it is.”

 

“So this byproduct of the soul becomes another person?”

 

Dr. Gentle nods. “Correct. A new person is born, sometimes in adulthood, once the Jew/Gentile battle, within a given soul, has reached its conclusion.”

 

“So in your case …”

 

“In my case, the battle was won, in no uncertain terms, by the illustrious Jewish filmmaker David Cronenberg. I, well … I’m what’s left. The runoff. The Gentile Cronenberg. A small-sized person, and I don’t mind saying it. I was born in my mid-thirties as a Youth Pastor named Dr. Gentle. With no soul of my own to speak of, I’ve pledged my years on this earth to shepherding the souls of others across this vast desert.”

 

He sighs and looks me over for understanding, which I feign.

 

“I content myself in the knowledge that I am not as badly off as the Jewish David Lynch. Now there is truly a man with nothing to live for.”

 

I nod, beginning to feel my feigned understanding harden into something real. Or maybe it’s just the look on my face that’s hardening.

 

 

“Are we almost there?” I ask.

 

“Where?” Dr. Gentle looks at me with extremely concerned eyes.

 

I shrug. “I’d assumed there was somewhere we were going.”

 

He turns back and grips the donkey’s reins and mutters, “They always do.”

AFTER A WELCOME TROUGH OF ACTIVITY following the Blood Drive, we get shaken up by a group Email.

 

I’d just reached the end of a two week free trial of a popular pay-as-you-go scam called Internet Free America, which promised to “reintegrate my top-shelf attention into my so-called life and re-situate my subjectivity in my given body,” so I was checking my inbox with a genuinely feral hunger, like that which Kinski and McDowell harbor for one another in Cat People, when the group Email came in.

 

“Dear People of Dodge City,” it began.

 

“Your communal Blood Drive results have been analyzed by me and a couple friends of mine, and we have determined enough overlaps in plasma-type and DNA-structure to suggest that you are more closely related, ideologically speaking, than is considered safe for the citizenry of a town of your size to be. If anyone would like to see my sources on this, or the results themselves, just let me know and I’ll forward them to you.

 

“The upshot here is that tomorrow I’m going to pay you all a visit and examine your ideas, one by one, in private. If you can convince me that your ideas are, in all ways that count, meaningfully distinct and antithetical to one another, I’ll leave with no further ado, and you’ll be free to go on calling yourselves a town.

 

“If, however, as I suspect, your ideas prove more convergent than divergent, collapsing and narrowing down toward a single fiercely held belief, unalienable at the expense of all others, it will be my displeasure to demote your status from town to cult.

 

“Lastly, just so there’s no misunderstanding when I show up, I am an impersonator of the Inspector whom you all hosted on your streets about a year ago. I am a copycat-Inspector by trade, but, make no mistake, this only bolsters my authority; it in no way undermines or invalidates it. I am such an exact copycat, indeed, that you will be unable to distinguish me from the Inspector himself. You may tell yourselves now, as you read this Email, that you’ll absolutely remember, that nothing can fool you or pry you off your certainty, but you’ll see when I show up …

 

You will treat me as the Inspector himself, and I will know very quickly whether Dodge City is in fact a cult.”

 

THE FIRST THING I DO, after reading and deleting the Email, is delete all my correspondence with Internet Free America (all physical letters, naturally, since they deal in clients cut loose from Email), motivated by some medium-grade fear that my entanglement with them is connected to the coming of this copycat Inspector, or that I might at least be accused of this, Witch Trial style, if Dodge City ends up being declared a cult …

 

Which possibility, I think, as I shower off the sweat I worked up shredding the letters, seems a mile or two less than remote. I don’t know exactly what the fallout from being declared a cult might be, but it’s easy to imagine some harsh tax penalty or mass emigration or, more fearsome still, immigration, if we come to be seen in that light.

 

I towel off, shave, and lie down, trying to think what my ideas are, aware that, first thing in the morning, I’ll have to head down to Dead Sir and ditch them all. I can picture everyone I know down there, purging and trashing their entire mental collections like a mass drug dump on the eve of an historic raid.

 

Whatever the truth of Dodge City actually is, I don’t want to be the one to convince the Inspector that it’s a cult. I shiver as I recognize the potential commonality of this idea — if he catches us all thinking this when he comes, I think, he’ll know we’re a cult for sure.

 

It’s rough going as I flip through everything in my head. The combination of withdrawal-agony and cleanse-ecstasy that Internet Free America stimulated the past few weeks returns now, severalfold, as I endeavor to gut out my whole deal, ball it up into some huge, weird boulder and roll it down through the streets to Dead Sir when the sun comes up.

 

I envision myself like the last survivor of a stricken family during the Black Plague, rolling my dead on a cart through the streets of some skanky French village, shunning eye contact with my fellow survivors as we head grimly to the pit or the incinerator.

 

*****

NEXT MORNING, the scene at the diner is madness. Everyone’s nervous before the trip to Dead Sir, trying to eat a heartening breakfast without ordering the same thing as anyone else, lest there seem to be a morning ritual.

 

Infantile cries of “I ordered it first!” and “He’s copying me!” squirt out everywhere, and the kitchen scrambles to combine ingredients in new and, ideally, random ways, to keep from seeming to have a signature dish or even a menu determined by consistent taste.

 

No one knows when the Inspector will arrive.

 

I order a bowl of powdered sugar and, much as it pains me to skip my coffee, a cup of cool lemon tea, as if that’ll deter the Inspector from seeing me as I really am.

 

Gottfried Benn works the tables, trying to shake people down for his usual $60, but no one will acknowledge him, noxious as his presence is.

 

He gets folded into the procession to Dead Sir, everyone tramping out of the diner without paying, the manager too flustered to call us out.

 

We lurch through the streets and into the woods taking care not to march or in any way fall into step with one another. This reminds me of how, in Dune, everyone always had to walk totally without rhythm across the desert so as not to alert the slumbering sandworms to human passage overhead … thoughts of Dune lead naturally to thoughts of Lynch and Jodorowsky, which lead to …

 

NO.

 

I stop myself here, before I get any more carried in the direction I don’t want to go.

 

I try to focus, totally purging my mental space. I picture it like a room filled with boxes and clothes and suitcases and busted furniture all tipped over and piled crooked. Then I start warming up a mental wrecking ball, swinging it in power-hungry arcs just outside the window.

 

*****

I’M WAIST DEEP IN DEAD SIR, along with everyone else in Dodge City — all the Cavernous, the Editors, spitting out the parts of my novel I’ve stuffed them with (so much for editing, I suppose), and Gibbering Pete, Rigid Steve, Fiscal Steven, Professor Dalton, Internethead … literally everyone.

 

I keep losing track of what I’m doing here, looking around at everyone else, ambiently dreaming of checking Email.

 

Cultish forces circle me like hawks, waiting to swoop down and take a bite of where I’m softest.

 

Just don’t stop purging, some way-inner taskmaster commands. Open your mouth, fat boy.

 

I do, and feel my whole collection blasting itself out, spewing up my throat and over my tongue and into Dead Sir (whose name I’m soon to forget), filling in the watery brine around me, thickening it and upping its temperature.

 

Last thing I see before the purge overwhelms my optical nerves is everyone I know ceasing to be everyone I know, becoming scarecrows in some bath that’s getting so hot their skin turns red and starts to bubble.

 

*****

“… right, exactly, they’re all just standing here in this, um, sort of outdoor tank, like a pit they must’ve dug and filled in, and it’s kind of, I think you’d have to say, fulminating all around them …”

 

My eyes drift open and I can see it’s late afternoon and we’re all in the water and someone I don’t know is standing on the shore, talking into an iPhone.

 

I can tell I won’t be able to move until some external condition changes, so I stand where I am and listen:

 

“… totally vacant expressions, that’s correct sir, like dead cow, or sub-cow, eyes, and kind of swaying at the knees and hips … thoroughly entranced. A few are looking in my direction, but I don’t think they can really see me. I told them I was coming. You’d think they’d make at least some effort to disguise their ritual, but I guess not with these folks. Pretty baldfaced cult, gotta hand it to them.”

 

The Inspector — somewhere way back in myself I remember this is his name — continues, “And some are mumbling repetitive sounds like ‘vu vu vu vu’ and ‘tn tn tn tn tn,’ along those lines. And this thing they’re standing in is making sounds too, like a call and response. Uncanny to behold, sir. I don’t like it. They all look similar too, like they’ve taken pains to make themselves outwardly identical. Probably all respond to the same name too, not that I want to know what it is.”

 

I have an instinct to do something erratic right now, anything, just to shake things up, remind me that I’m me and stick my foot in the door that I can see is about to slam shut on all of us, but my body won’t respond. I’ve purged too much of what made it tick.

 

“Any further questions, sir?” the Inspector asks. “I really can’t see any ambiguity at all in this case … great, well I’ll book them then. I’ll let you know once the paperwork’s filed. Speak soon, sir … yup, you too. Give my best to Raquel, and … um … oh yeah, Henry. My best to Henry too.”

 

He hangs up and looks directly at me and our eyes stay locked like that until he turns away, opening his briefcase to extract the paperwork and a pen.

I’M DRIVING ALONG WITH and or being driven along by Internethead. Out to the desert to face down the Ghost Detritus of the Dodge City Genocide, whose legacy has gone so long unseen.

He drives fast, with little apparent regard for the territory. We are soon well beyond the highway entrance and the cluster of signs that tell you what fast food and motels to hope for when coming to town for the first time. We pass a Dairy Queen whose parking lot marquee reads, “Another Day Too Sad For Words $1.99.”

I can tell this will be the last establishment we’ll see. I wish we had stopped for a snack. The dark miles beyond this feel like discovering new hours in the night, the first time you stay up later than you ever have before.

Internethead’s face bulges peacefully, not showing off for anyone. It’s made its point, at least taken its stab. It may still burst, but it won’t be a purposive event.

Things right now are, strangely or not, rather boring, like Internethead and I have known each other a long time, like two hitmen or some duo with a show we take on the road, and now we’re just logging the middle miles among millions.

Like one of us will point something out and the other won’t respond … and then he’ll point something out, not expecting a response.

We get off one road after another … it seems we’re always getting off roads and never onto them, though we go on driving.

The oldest of all old Grandaddy songs plays five or six times in a row on the radio, the reception getting steadily worse. It feels rigged, like the same song is playing again and again to make a point about how much worse the reception is getting the further out we get — as if otherwise the fact of this growing distance would be lost on us.

WE ARRIVE.

It’s almost an exact replica of something from Lynch: the ranch in the desert, the broad-shouldered guy in the hat by the gate waiting for us, some message to impart or threat to make.

We pull up a steep hill, all gravel and loose dirt, requiring some fancywork with the brakes and steering wheel, and come to a stop in a cloud of dust.

It settles; we wait; Internethead’s bulge bulges. I play through a quick memory of a night in Krakow when I saw some kids on a backstreet draw knives …

THEN WE’RE out of the car, standing up, coming through the gate as the big man ushers. Closing the gate, he checks the driveway, making sure we weren’t followed.

Once inside, I realize, unambiguously, who it is: SUICIDE SAM (or, the SON OF SUICIDE SAM, which, according to the rules I’m trying to intuit, is I think the same thing).

“Hi,” I say, remembering the scene a few weeks ago where I was lured out to his encampment, outside of town, and died or almost died.

He just smiles. He and Internethead appear to know one another from a venue other than this one.

We begin to stroll. The air is thick as hamburger grease.

The whole place looks like a disused film or TV set, with traces of not just Lynch but Terry Gilliam, Frank Miller, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Vince Gilligan … ha, now I’m just listing names. But, in all seriousness, it’s a patchwork of a place, equal parts “just weedy” and “immaculately honed to some unrealizable diabolical vision.”

I can’t tell if anything has ever actually been shot here. There are spotlights set up at intervals, dim, like they have no OFF-switches so have been on for years, all through the blazing bright days, helping burn the sand we’re now walking over.

*****

FOR A WHILE, we were moving through tangible human constructions — ranch style stuff, dog kennels, fencing, arrays of tires and engines — but now we’re in open desert.

The air gets even thicker, and I can see Internethead’s bulge attain a new closeness to popping.

Just pop, I wish in its direction. It responds by bulging even further, like an ear stretching out to read my mind.

The air is so thick we can barely move, like that dream-flying that’s a kind of swimming through a soupy, all-surrounding substrate.

“Feel that?” asks Internethead.

I admit that I do. I reach out to wipe my arm, pull away a thick smear.

It only proliferates as I rub one hand against the other.

Suicide Sam is looking away from us, like he’s going to say his piece later on. Internethead continues, “The Ghosts of the Ghost Detritus, as promised.”

He looks at me through a film of air so thick it’s almost a crowd. “Here’s where they all ended up. This is what the Genocide turned them into … the way of all flesh.”

I had until this point suppressed the feeling but now I can’t: the charge in the air is erotic. There’s a crackly, arousing liveness, or litheness, everywhere.

Internethead looks at me and I’m ashamed to realize that he knows I’m feeling it. He smirks.

“This is what the Genocide produced,” he says emphatically, admitting neither happiness nor sadness at the fact.

It’s cloying all over my skin — hard to express the feeling, an encroaching, densening, slimy, good-feeling influx of Ghost Porn.

I try again to scrape it off (thicker than dish soap now), but my hands are trembly and the pads of my fingers feel huge, magnified out of usefulness.

So I just let it flood me. A totally disembodied, objectless pornography — could be worse, thinks a certain non-trivial part of me.

“Could be much worse,” replies Internethead, or Internethead’s bulge, which, I swear to God, truly can hear my thoughts.

THEN SUICIDE SAM TURNS ON ANOTHER SPOTLIGHT — this one apparently mounted with an OFF-switch — and the desert comes alive with pornography. It’s everywhere, in all directions, gnashing itself into a fit.

“The fate of all Ghosts,” he says with a smile. It’s like the longest, hardest outtake from Penthouse’s Caligula you’ve ever hoped to see.
“Porn sets in the deep, deep desert,” mutters Internethead. I’ve started to distrust his voice, no longer able to be certain whether it’s speaking into the world at large, through his mouth, or straight into my mind, through his bulge.

I’ve lost a friend, I think.

*****

“ALMOST THERE,” says Suicide Sam, after the spotlights have been turned off. Internethead has disappeared, coinciding, it would seem, with my renouncing him as my friend, which does little-to-nothing to diminish my paranoia about him.

“Almost where?” I ask, but too late, as the outside world kills my question on the vine: it’s clear that we’ve arrived at a hut.

“Prepare to make a new friend,” says Suicide Sam. “Go knock on the door.” He nods at the hut.

“Why don’t you?” I ask.

“He wouldn’t hear me,” he replies, gravely. “He’s dead.”

No point in stalling, I think, so I go up and knock on the door.

No answer. I knock again. Etc, etc.

Finally, a very disheveled-looking young man, younger than me, comes to the door, and looks upon me with great fondness and relief.

Disturbed, I look away from him and back at Suicide Sam who, clearly, cannot see this young man.

“What is this?” I ask.

Suicide Sam smiles, still clearly aroused from the Ghosts. “He’s yours,” he replies. “Committed suicide not long ago. Stipulated in his Note that you’d be the only person he’d still be alive to.”

I look back at the young guy, and it’s clear that he can’t see or hear Suicide Sam. I feel very weird, stretched like this between two mutually exclusive beings.

“He what??” I ask, aware that I’m just floundering now.

Suicide Sam repeats, “He’s dead, but not to you. He put it right here in his Note, addressed you by name. He said, ‘Goodbye everyone except …’ ”

Suicide Sam hands me the Note, and I read it through. Sure enough, it refers to me by name. I look the young guy over again, trying to determine if I know him.

“It’s never too late to make a new friend,” demurs Suicide Sam, disappearing back into the desert dark. The layer of Ghost Porn sighs as he presses back into it.

*****

SO NOW IT’S JUST ME AND THIS DEAD GUY, who’s not dead to me, it would seem.

Maybe he can be my sidekick, I think, looking him over, trying to assess if it’s possible that, in fact, it’ll be the other way around.