Archives for posts with tag: Gottfried Benn

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.

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IN CLASSIC FASHION, the buried do not stay that way.

 

That’s the thing about Dead Sir that I forgot to mention, though I can’t imagine who was fooled. Easy enough to hack extra-matter away and dump it in the deep; harder to keep it down there when it wants to come back up and you didn’t want to let it go in the first place.

 

You know the classic scene: a fisherman alone in his boat, motoring across the still waters at dusk, hoping for a dinner catch before midnight, comes across a finger with a wring, a blue hand, a mealy wrist with a still-ticking watch, an arm that doesn’t stop there …

 

The two bodies are soon bunched into the middle of his boat, weighing it down, and he’s speeding back to shore.

 

Less classic about the scene in our case is that this particular fisherman went looking for them directly, rather than finding them by guileless accident while actually fishing for, say, fish.

 

This is his racket: he hauls up what we cast off, gone soft and slimy in Dead Sir, and brings it back to Dodge City to sell.

 

Guilty abandoners and regretful onetime stewards that we are, we buy it back every time.

 

He doesn’t sell any other type of fish. Anyone into that kind of thing around here belongs in a grocery store several towns away.

 

When he brings them in they look like Joseph Beuys in Siberia, wrapped in wolf-fat and fur, or by wolves in man-fat and skin, depending on your version. I’ll always remember where and who I was when I first got told about Beuys going down in his fighter jet or bomber or scout plane over the ice flats or steppe or tundra, in WWII I believe, and being nurtured there in the wild for a good decade by wolves before returning to Germany as a kind of transhuman maniac superhero to take the Art World by storm.

 

Which is not to say that Face & Star Simpson are galvanized on this level; just that their blocks of fat are similar (that’s where I got the idea).

 

The fat is translucent, like aspic, so the inward-warping bodies can be observed, in some slow rotation, a churn. I stop in to check them out. I wonder if the material has grown out of their bodies in autoimmune response to the Dead Sir environment, or accreted from that environment onto them, like simple pond scum.

 

They sit in the shop a few days and nights, on ice and sprayed with the fish-mist hose every hour, but, still …

 

They start to stink and then it’s someone’s idea to invite them to Thanksgiving. “They’re all alone,” is the reasoning, common enough this time of year.

 

There’s agreement in town.

 

So the call to the fisherman is made and Face & Star Simpson are ordered up, either as guests or as entrees.

 

*****

THIS TIME LAST YEAR I lived in a house, but now that I’m back at the Hotel, the Function Room downstairs is home to the only dinner I’m likely to find out about.

 

Various guests — Big Pharmakos, Professor Dalton, the Silent Professor, Gottfried Benn, whoever else — arrive in stages, the best ones toward the middle.

 

Amongst us is the baby sired by Stokoe Drifter in that old guy Murph’s protruding intestine a few weeks back. Some stand-in parent types bring it in, done up in a onesie, and let us know they’ve named it Ferttle.

 

OK.

 

We lean our heads into the baby’s POV, trying not to telegraph our disgust at its Origin Scene, since, we know, the facts of one’s parentage are no one’s fault.

 

Ferttle, at this point, may be the Only Child in Dodge City. I forget what happened to the last one.

 

We all sit, palming nuts and sesame sticks, beers, waiting for the two Dead-Sir-flavored-fat-blocks to arrive.

 

I don’t know if I should admit to this group that Face & Star Simpson started out as characters of mine, sideliners in what was and is maybe still known as ANGEL HOUSE.

 

A bout of thinking, another beer, some olives, and I’ve decided not to. Let someone else or the world at large claim them.

 

THEY ARRIVE. Someone signs the fisherman’s order sheet, scanning us with one eye to gauge by expression who’s likely to help split the bill.

 

I couldn’t guess what they cost, a lot or a little.

 

The fisherman, in his baseball cap and windbreaker, looks glad to be rid of them. He leaves in a hurry to get on with his (I’m guessing) other, tamer plans.

 

The Hotel staff brings in the standard Thanksgiving set, turkey and all, but the twin blocks of fat in the corner, sitting on metal ice-sculpture stands, dominate our attention.

 

They dominate mine anyway — enough that I can’t speak for anyone else.

 

I have no other appetite.

 

So, though I would’ve been happy not to be the first, I take up a plastic butter knife and a paper plate from the buffet table and go over to the blocks and invite a little of each onto my plate.

 

The slices look like those thick jiggly rice-pasta rolls you get at Dim Sum, or used to get.

 

They even have reddish brown roast-porklike flecks worked in.

 

I taste one and then the other.

 

It’s warm and salty, a little bloody, a little rank.

 

I swoon.

 

Others file in behind me and start slicing as well, powerless before my example.

 

Soon they’re swooning too. We all are.

 

The blocks shrink inward toward their centers; everyone stumbles around, lips greasy, jaws and gullets working hard and automatic in gross ritual.

 

I see someone shoving spoonfuls of it down Ferttle’s throat. The baby wails for more.

 

In the hustle for seconds and thirds, there is no pause for wine.

 

*****

BY THE TIME IT’S OVER, we are passed out on the Function Room carpeting, the cleaning staff waiting by the door, perhaps unsure as to what they’re looking at.

 

Through one eye I fight to keep open, I watch the two exposed bodies stand up from their globular casing, bits of it still sticking to them. They waver on their feet, look about to tip over, and then right themselves, somehow strengthened.

 

They don’t look fully awake, but they zero in on the table and walk over to it, running their hands through the buffet spread.

 

Hands is an overstatement: the ends of their arms are worn down to tips or caps, and the arms themselves are just lengths of generic fleshy material, like hose or tubing cut from an endless roll at a hardware store.

 

Dead Sir has worn them so similar I can’t tell which was which, not even along M/F lines. They could be clones. Their faces have been smoothed over, hair and eyes washed away, skin pulled taut over bones that look hollow and soft, genitals rounded out to geometric templates.

 

After prowling a few times around the table, they plop into adjacent chairs and haul over the cold turkey and mashed sweet potatoes by pulling the tablecloth.

 

The forms that were once Face & Star Simpson fall to chewing and swallowing, thighs and wings, rolls and mugs of wine.

 

The buffet spread diminishes. They don’t look ravenous, but they eat steadily for a long time, their sides bulging outward.

 

They are characters in the most basic sense now, undeveloped, free for any story that’ll have them. My stomach boils the fat down to a narcotizing punch and I pass out to the image of them splitting a pumpkin pie.

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.