- No one seems to want to install the new roll of toilet paper on the toilet paper roll. They just rest the new roll on the old cardboard core. As soon as I notice this, I pass the time taking off the old core and threading the new roll. The old core goes in the basket outside the door. No longer an old core, it is an art supply.
- Who wouldn’t leap at the chance to make this happen?
- I wonder if they feel the old core is untouchable.
- While making this change, the metal spindle slips out of my hands, and, in its own version of landing jam side down, enters the toilet bowl with a professional splash. Incredible, murmur the judges. The spindle made a perfect dive, wouldn’t you say?
- The distance between my eyes and the scene below stretches into a deep unbreachable abyss. Finally the definition of untouchable is here, and no one to share it with. After a few seconds, I realize how important it is to keep this definition a complete secret. Running my finger gently over the door knob lock, I confirm I cannot be interrupted.
- could flush the toilet knowing the size of the spindle would prevent it from carrying any further into the system, then retrieve it from ostensibly potable water, if you’re a bad dog. I could pin the spindle to the side of the bowl while flushing with this peculiar spatula left to air dry next to the sink.
- I decant and place a second roll of toilet paper on the back of the toilet in order to buy some time, and prepare the next visitors with an option when the current roll expires.
- Perhaps someone is better at this than I am, and waiting for the moment to shine but for my incessant intervention.
- And with a great exhale, I reach into the bowl and retrieve the spindle. This is a move of a certain speed, but not frenetic, lest it make things worse. If someone is watching using the pinhole video cameras now readily available from catalogues, for the home version of our collective paranoia, they would say, yes, that is exactly how good things are retrieved from bad places. Quietly. Immediately.
- There is no soap in the soap dispenser. As I flood and flush, I think of my father showing us his burst knuckles and telling us how he would have to scrub these in the morning. It seemed so simple to me even when pint-sized: stop performing morning surgeries or stop putting holes in the walls with your fists. I think of all the other bathroom debacles: the cool of the tile on my forehead, the careless toss of the keys into the trap of my underwear and the subsequent search for them an hour later back in the office, the time it took me to gather the courage to stick my tongue out in the mirror and see for myself how deeply I had bitten it, the urge, the scourge, the horrible passage of reverse digestion in Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow that I had to read serialized in Granta )and( in the published final. I’m afraid that goes with me everywhere I go now.
- When I leave, no one is waiting to go in.
- I hit the lights.
For the very first time, I see a sign crafted circa 197hmm-hmm that announces I can buy stamps at this window from 5:00pm to 8:00am. That’s overnight. From a live human being. In a United States Post Office. Who knew?
But I picked the machine instead, and fed in a ten dollar bill in order to get the precious second-ounce stamps: 23 centers that allow you to pass muster on a holiday greeting that could was tipping the scale. They all weigh something different, of course, because we had the assembly line set up for two weeks: children, parents, homeless, shoppers would sit down and make a holiday greeting card in the main gallery. The cards are all exquisite. They each represent a story about the maker that we’ll never be able to spend enough time telling. I would look at each greeting card maker as they worked and throw a big love light on them with my eyes. Only a couple of them ever looked up to see what had hit them.
Note to ’99: Let love be a little louder.
This particular machine was warning me it couldn’t make more than $5 in change. That was fine, because I needed 20 23 centers, and wasn’t bothering to do the math, but planned to make up for it in 55 centers for the cards I was taking home to address. The tenner I was feeding in was being regurgitated each time. Was it folded improperly? No. Was it upside down? No. Was it ancient? No. What was the issue? I gave up and went to the window and requested two five dollar bills.
The postal clerk was unable to make change. I had to make a purchase in order to receive change. So I requested 20 23 centers. There were none available. I requested 20 55 centers, but the total came to $11, and I only had $10, and needed some for 20 23 centers no matter what. Avoiding the math, I knew I was in terrible trouble when Betty Kano caught my eye from the faraway queue. I requested 20 55 centers and proffered an ATM card, which solved the problem of insufficient funds, but left my tenner completely intact.
Do you think waving money in front of the bullet proof window will guarantee service? she asked. Betty you must help me, I said in a calm voice. Nothing in this material world is making sense to me now. Think short term, she said, what do you need immediately? Change for a ten, I replied. She had seven singles. I took it and wished her well.
The machine accepted only one bill at a time, leaving me to four complete transactions to obtain 20 23 centers. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No, but the machine became sentient and gave me one anyway. I’m looking at it now. I remanded to the table, where a woman furiously preparing an overnight package would not look up or rein in, and a man kept offering assistance to people as he searched for proper forms while barking the incessant caveat that he was just as confused as they were. With each 23 center I licked, I felt an intruder coursing through my blood stream, hurrying to catch up with his comrade. I think the agent of each stamp is laying low for now, until I’m standing in line to catch the plane that will take me within walking distance of Poipu Beach. By that time, each germ will be six feet tall, and waiting to get out of me because I’m three inches too short.
The assisting, but just as confused, man kept throwing paper through a hole in the table and not noticing that the hole led directly to the floor. Betty Kano was about to be ejected from the premises for not marking her package correctly, but was unable to obtain a pen from the clerk that would allow her to make the necessary mark. I handed her one that I had found on the floor. She used it, triumphing over The System, and returned it. I put it back on the floor where I found it. Betty ran back over and gave me three more singles derived from her properly marked transaction. The trade was even.
I don’t know how I’ll explain this over dinner, I said. We had everything we needed, but not exactly in the right order at the right time. Is that a sufficiency or an insufficiency? Betty Kano gave me a hug, holding me a couple beats longer than good-natured long time industry colleagues are supposed to hold.
In a bizarre turn of events, my father, the original deadbeat dad, overpaid his spousal support obligation to my mother, the original woman suffering from a unique sense of entitlement. No worries, I say, we need only write a check reimbursing your ex for the overage. Ma was crushed, actually slumping over and putting her head on the table in despair. She’d only been waiting 14 months for this horribly insubstantial sum, whisked away from Pop through a kafka wage assignment. Then she popped back up and asked with some excitement: can we send it to him in pennies? Er, no, I said, because I wrote the check just now while you despaired. Well, she says, how about you blow the check up really large, like in publisher’s clearing house commercials, and send it to him so he has to haul it to the bank under this arm and wedge it through the teller window? Good question, Ma, I said, I’m glad you asked that. That way, she continued, I could call him up a day after we mail it and ask him if he received the big check I sent him. Ma, I said, you’re such a card.
Too subtle. I think her mind was on other things. Alternatively, I’m not funny.
So I, the latest iteration of the dutiful daughter, confirmed that blowing up a check really large is a basic service at the all day all night one stop copy shop whose name I won’t mention and rhymes with gingkos, and can usually be scammed for 90% off if the employee handling the transaction is really really angry with the supervisor. Fine.
The other thing was whether the blown up check would be, you know, negotiable. So I called the issuing bank and axed the nice lady, who had to put me on hold because this was not a routine question for her. After many minutes, which I gladly spent in a completely empty-headed fashion, she returned to tell me everything her supervisor said. A lot. How to obscure the numbers on the blown up check. How to remove identifying financial institution information. How to–
And I stopped her and said, yes, those are excellent things if you )don’t( want the check negotiated, but what if you )do( want it negotiated? She paused and excused herself for another many minutes, which I resumed spending, only now a little self-consciously, in empty-headedness. Indeed, how come it was so still inside my head? Why, exactly, wasn’t I thinking something? Had I, just this moment, lost the capacity to be constantly engaged in cogitation? No answer. I started feeling clammy, but then the nice lady came back on the line, and I immediately started thinking about her.
This bank does not negotiate blown-up checks, due to the limits of its check-reading apparatus. Do machines read checks, I wondered aloud, or do people read checks? I thought she might pick up on this and intone, Chevron-stylee, People Do. She Did Not. If the check were the right size, however, and contained the correct information, it could be on any substrate, I offered, could it not? You mean, she asked, like a napkin? Back of a napkin, I corrected. No, she said. I got the feeling I really wanted to pursue this line of inquiry, but it would be a bad idea to press this nice lady any further. Brow furrowed and brain active, I thanked her and rang off.
Ma was disappointed that she couldn’t send Pa a Big Check. How about the pennies? she said, her mind already casting further for a new and shaming currency. Green stamps? Marlboro bucks? Pepsi points? Frequent flyer miles? Beads? I cut it short with an apologetic moan. It’ll cost more than the pennies to send the pennies, I rationalized pointlessly. How so, she said. The weight, Ma. You could hand deliver them, she countered. I moaned again, mind racing.
Z said: She’s funny. Too bad she’s trying to hurt someone.
Pulled up short to think that comment all the way through and ended in slow sage nods. If I’d had a drink in my hand I would have thrown it back in one gulp and walked out of the bar into the cold, inky darkness, climbed in the truck and barked the tires on my way out of the lot. Then I’d drive. And drive. And drive.
Macreedy: Oh, I’ll only be here twenty-four hours.
Conductor: In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.
I credit mPowers, who had earlier suggested that the flag installation did not qualify as art, for noticing the two guys on the ATV running through the flags with something other than boundless joy. They were definitely trying, unlike everyone else who drove through the flags (on bikes, on scooters dressed up as rabbits, on foot, on x), to accomplish something. Sure enough, the sky hitched up with the sight of a couple flags torn from their roots and tucked under the arm of the guy riding on the back. Off they went.
Proof I’m not so bad off as I thought: I was completely galvanized with What To Do Next. First: Run After Them Now. Second: Wave Arms and Yell Imperatives. It was really quite a good thing that they noticed me at all, and really even better that they stopped, circled, and drove back to me as I pounded toward them with an unrelenting speed.
The Driver launched into a defense: He thought the flags were up for grabs. It was the day after the Burn and what hadn’t been nailed down or closely guarded had in many cases been destroyed more or less on purpose. The boundary between the right of a thing to exist and the right of a person to interact with it had been made very complicated, drawn by a machine with four pen points and a progressive circular motion. The old rules of public art had been, in a quaint way, sidestepped by the special circumstances of Black Rock City, with its one beautiful rule of never interfering with the immediate experience of another. I set my work out there and walked gingerly away from it, the years of cranky letters and indignant phonecalls to the beleaguered public art coordinator ringing in my ears, my jejeune thesis on the response to a work of art actually contributing to its meaning over time, and the sinking feeling I get when I ponder my own factual weakness around art: I feel faint, as if my eyes are seeing just a bit too much, and my heart is bursting just a bit too wide. One time I couldn’t hide it, and was escorted to a room, quite uninteresting, where I found about a dozen people like me, completely played out by the ceiling frescos. The museum guards had seen it all before, and caught me even before I realized I was falling.
Which is to say, and is pretty much what the attorney said that night as we tried to convince her that Nile Spice soups were good meals for vegetarians, destructive responses to art are nonetheless flattering. Scout said: I am now aware I have a fan of my art, and it’s a pity my fan is also a thief. Sadly, I spent the next few days making minor adjustments to my perch on the fence of this issue without ever falling off or dying of dissonance, and ended my grief when no one was around by looking at the picture of the installation that Z took until the tears came.
It really was beautiful, and I was so undeserving. Yaven said I had to make things up about my art: why the saturated yellow? Why the lean right triangles? Why metal conduit instead of pvc? What was the meaning of the sound of the flags? What was the key to their number and arrangement? But I can tell you it went like this: Wake up one day. Say half aloud “Flags. Must make flags for desert. Yes. Make flags now.” then more or less make them, but not until you really have to a few days before you leave. Finally, walk out to a spot and install the flags. Upon your return, sit on the couch and look at them in the distance. Say half aloud “Flags. Flags done. Next.” The next thing was dinner, I swear. Over the next few days, I was corrected by more experienced public artists, especially the conceptual environmental kinetic ones. I invented a story for the flags that truly satisfied the inquiries, and, naturally, couldn’t keep track of it because it was such a big fat lie.
But not once were my flags up for grabs. When the Driver asked if they were, I said No. I took the flags from them, without rancor, turned and walked away. It seemed to me they were calling to me with increasing frustration. Usually ethical discussions broke out over scenes like this, and, for a time, you relish the opportunity to hash it all out. But it was all so completely over for me, and the only thing the Driver and his Man needed to know was my one word. It might have been provocative, it might have robbed them of their process, it might have ended my opportunity to proselytize my point of view, or hear with antenna up a new point of view entirely. I accepted this, and trudged back to the camp. The only thought of any substance in my head was that I had certainly run a long way, and it was going to take me quite a while to get back.
Z came out with me to deinstall the remaining flags. I feared the return of the philosophically unrequited atv guys, or some unassuming oaf to take their place. The wind picked up in harshness and the wet came out of the sky. We worked without regard to it, and with each step gained another half inch in height as the muddied alkali crust adhered to our shoes: signature Playa Platforms. By the time we reached the road in front of our camp we were approaching the Giant section of the actuarial table, and were basically soaked to the skin. mPowers was waiting with his polaroid.
Is it art yet? I asked him. It’s definitely art, he said.
If I’m crafty, I can reinstall the flags in my neighborhood so that their eventual removal by the authorities provokes a great shaming action on the part of the community. Now they lean inert against the wall in an incomprehensible bundle. The cat considered their wind-frayed edges for a moment, then moved on. We’ve received word that they were powerful anchors for many citizens, highly photogenic, filled with just the right amount of strange light and sound, a simple and satisfying surprise. I wondered if I should have let them go, and created a story of my own renunciation of fetishism to go with it.
But it was all so truly me: to make them, to show them, to fight for them, to keep them; each act an assertion of the unadorned self, without premeditation or compensating strategy. This was a completely unexpected experience of authenticity. Honestly. I thought I was too far gone for that.
But there you have it all flapping in the wind.
I can never remember the name of that town and that’s disturbing. Exit 23? 29? 34? It’s no use. It’s between Exit 43 and Sparks and there’s a landfill that appears to satisfy the region’s needs. This is what I did for $2.25:
- Executed a Pete Townshend Mega Windmill while holding a half- eaten horse-feedin bag of restaurant-style tortilla chips. The desert had sucked all the liquid out of the chips, and, as you know, there wasn’t much liquid there to start with. Imagine my surprise when their light-as-a-feather dessicated selves left my hand at the top of my arc, rather than at the bottom, and sailed over our heads, over the box truck, over hill and over dale, over gull and over guy, and landed in the middle of the parking lot way far away back there instead of the landfill directly nudging our boots right here. Fantastic, and fantastically wrong. I stared at my offending hand with new respect and awe. Such a mistake from such a normally unassuming thing.
- Guided two couches to their death, high atop the mounds of chipped and snapped disposable culture. The plan to burn them had failed completely, what with everyone taking off at dusk without confronting the thought of dragging two couches the requisite mile to the Man. Using the bent shade structure poles that EaPaul had never returned from the previous year, we could have lifted the lighter couch and carried one or two out cleopatra-style. Instead, we sat eating the unexpectedly delicious tomato-based soup and fighting for additional crostini, which the desert had sucked all the liquid out of, and, as you know–
- Played Super Javelin Fly with three quarter inch PVC. Due to its condition, bent into a U that felt about as gentle as a benign smile of the sun, there was a small moment of terror as I saw the 10-footer reach around and start to approach me like a boomerang. That would have been very bad, and would have cemented my emerging complex that I had completely forgotten how to throw things without embarrassing myself.
- Apologized to Michael and Michael for taking that road so slow. There was a governor on the truck, which fixated my thoughts for the entire drive on my long-gone brother Timmy showing me, from across the roar of the other children strapped in their death trap gokarts, how to reach back and defeat the spring on the briggs and stratton. One- handed and approaching Mach 1, I was sidelined by the carnies for being smart. It occurred to me I was just being observant. No matter. I was sentenced to turn this story over and over and over and over in my mind for 100 miles, periodically feeling the burning despair of Michael and Michael behind me, rarin to go but compelled to entrain.
- Announced that no one had properly acknowledged that the last night of our camp had been populated by Michael, Michael, Michael, and… me, Not Michael. It had been important only to me that I was the one girlie in the group, and I sought solace with Michael, who was the only straight one in the group. Everyone had hands-on experience building 3D worlds. Only half were pierced, but had enough piercings to give the other half credit for them if they wanted it. No one minded the soy milk. Everyone concurred the Tipsy recording went best with the passing crowd. Each walked around naked. No one got a sunburn. Thus ends the demographic of this target market. I believe we are hot prospects for the following products:
- Dumped a cooler that had contained a innocent mixture of material that had, in a single day without proper refrigerant, turned into a gut-busting skank. This required yelling really loud and unintelligibly. Got a big laugh, especially when I gagged. It planted a seed in my mind that I may be growing weak, delicate, particular, useless. Somebody will have to dump that cooler, or clean that dog’s ear, or pull the staple out from under the thumbnail. If I lose my ability to mop up, like a cop who loses her ability to joke about the dead guy under her feet, what’s gonna happen to me? Us? This recognition of my eventual death didn’t effect the high spirits. It never does.
- Left considerably lighter, and with a certain confidence with the truck, the gear, the load, the company, the agenda. When I’m on the road and I look into the cab of a truck rental, I try to see if the occupants are starting over, putting it all behind them, permanently nomadic, in a state, anything, anything at all. I tried not to pose, but I certainly felt Done With All That. In this sense I felt like a Truck Rental Imposter, using the vehicle in a way it was never intended, and learning it too well because I was just going to have to leave it, getting used to being that high above the road, and looking quasi-commercial, as opposed to super-residential. But honestly, this was my summer vacation. I did this all on purpose.
Gassing up, I was surprised to see Aimee and Alan’s RV a couple bays over. They had left hours before us but had only arrived here now alongside. As I greeted them, as I had meant to do all week but hadn’t, I peered in the window of the RV where Aimee sat playing a hand of cards. She had a very high straight that made my eyes pop wide.
I never get dealt hands like that.
Sadie Damascus lets everything rest for a few days after getting home from the Playa. I understand this. It’s the alkali dust. It’s on everything and it won’t go anywhere if you disturb it. Best to let it fade away. That takes about a year, what’s one or two days going to mean at that rate?
Add to that the spectacle of having your gear bulging out your car windows and straining against the tie-downs on the roof, especially if you have a bike that froze up in the mud that came after the Monday rains. I watched agile riders become oxen after their knobby tires sucked up the prehistoric dinosaur eating goo, so thick the tire wouldn’t go round anymore. The only way to ride the bike was to drag it behind you while expressing rage.
It’s not popular, I accept it: most people come home and tear the car apart, bringing all the luggage, garbage and verbage inside, maybe even putting it away, or at least starting the first of twenty loads of laundry. This time: No. All I had time for was a shamefully long shower in which I shaved my body hair using a particularly dangerous double-edged instrument I found somewhere, or did someone give it to me as a gift? Believe me, coming from a disposable culture, the razor has some menace to it just because of its weight. I only cut myself once, in the spot you’d expect. But scrubbing and rinsing and scouring and steaming wouldn’t get this alkali off. In my dry acid bath, I needed to debrede. And after a week of multiple contact abrasions and contusions, dust storms and indignities, I was pretty cavalier about changing razor blades and scraping off those cellular layers in spite of being slippery when wet.
There were five stacks, one for each citizen in our republic: Paul’s, containing the bike he was convinced had been stolen right out from under him, but in fact had been borrowed and dumped at the Ranger Station. Typical; Nash’s, consisting of his tent which would not fit into the bag provided. Tent manufacturers taunt us in this way; Kevin’s, just shoes. He might not strike you as this efficient, but the shoes do not lie; Michael’s, with a very bad forgive us our shwinn in annoying orange, weighing approximately a ton, the unboxable, but, due to duct tape, boxed entertainer shade houses, an unfortunately hilarious product name for a structure that keeps out 80% of the sunlight and 0% of the rain, and a wooden… element that he found on the playa and made us drag home. It’s… interesting; David’s, the tidiest packing on earth so we don’t mind the fact it’s seven times the amount dragged out by everyone else. But who owns the blue tarp? Who was eating from this fake wooden salad bowl? What about the Cathedral of the Wholly Sacred, now in itty bitty pieces? And who made the decision to purchase, then ignore completely, a )box( of merlot?
After taking it out and sorting it meticulously, I do the bone-aching thing and load it back into the truck for delivery. Tomorrow I’ll throw it off the back, just like the lumpers do on 2nd Street with all that romaine lettuce. Where it lands a puff of dust will come up and we’ll walk through it like eau de cologne: o desert. o salty sea.
Behind my ears and at my wrists, I’m wearing my ordeal at my pulse points.
A month or so ago I relented and accepted an unrepeatable offer for a cellular phone. This particular technology I had passed over many times, preferring to shout at cellphone users wherever I found them. That was unfair of me, but I really really enjoyed it. In most cases I was a luckless pedestrian, shouting at the cellphone user high atop her Range Rover, or, in the very worst case and I’ll never forget it, dyed blonde and high atop her peace dividend-ed Hummer:
Stop talking on the phone!
I would say with some firmness, and even a little bit of 2nd grade teacher authority.
You are driving a vehicle designed and manufactured for the purpose of making it easy for military personnel to traverse combat areas!
A long sentence that usually brought a response, but only because the word military was in it, or the percussiveness of the word combat was at the tail end. Isn’t it always?
Which means you paid for this vehicle twice!
A point lost on anyone who came in even a second late on this rant. Add a changing traffic light and you are instantly a lunatic screaming on the street corner.
Imagine my dismay when my siblings thought it would be a very good idea if I joined them in cellphone ownership. I reminded them how I had humiliated myself on the street in opposition to cellphones, but their arguments for a cellphone’s readiness and economy in emergencies was too much to bear. With a sweeping gesture that took in my mother ruminating in her wheelchair, they nailed the discussion completely shut.
And this is what has happened so far:
- I received the cellphone and unraveled the instructions. I haven’t seen instructions like this since my heyday with Ortho-Novum 35s, a particularly heavy (and unnecessary) dose for a woman my age. The instructions come in a folded pamphlet measuring an inch square, and explode into something you can use to replace your kitchen linoleum. I instantly liked the instructions, them having a dual purpose and all.
- I provided enough information to the cellular service company for them to impersonate me on the global stage. If it weren’t for these people, I would have escaped learning what my credit rating is. Not that I care. I knew I was a goner for credit ratings when my fourth grade teacher threatened to send me to the principal’s office for something and then reneged when I accepted her offer. I liked my principal, but for some reason never got on with my fourth grade teacher. Why is that? Her threats meant nothing to me, nor her admonishments. Finally acquainted with My Permanent File, I saw right through it the first time. Very bad for the people waving it menacingly. Very good for me, so far.
- I programmed the phone to Not Work At All No Matter What You Do. It wasn’t a good idea, but it can be done, so I did it. Then I worked hard at the conundrum it presented: How Do You Program A Cellphone To Work When You’ve Programmed It Not To Work? Coming soon to an Olympics near you, the millennial replacement for the Ski A Little Shoot A Little event. But you can see the advantage in this: you can wave the cellphone, show that it’s powered-up and waiting, and not be responsible for the absence of any real activity around the device. Unless you use it to play catch. Then it works fine.
- I fail to remember my cellphone number, even when I purposefully forget other things in order to make room for it. The trouble is that my cellphone number does not )spell( anything memorable. It has too many 1s and 0s in it, destroying the chance of having a great number as I did when I lived in the Vulcan: Legit-OD. That’s all I was ever after, ladies and gentlemen. Why did I ever have to move from there? Sad.
- My first cellphone call came as a hectic exercise in stupidity. What cellphone call doesn’t? I was riding back to the Bay Area on I-80, as usual, after spending the overnight at Ma’s pacing around and staring at the Fisher-Price Baby Monitor as it redlined her breathing. That’s right, I was completely trashed. I hear this honking and waving in the lane next to me, and I recognize, and only barely, my brother-in-law. He’s shaking his cellphone at me, but it isn’t because of 3, above. I shake my cellphone at him, and feel satisfied that we’ve communicated. He’s a very nice brother-in-law, but I’m just not a brother-in-law type of person, if it must be said. Then he weaves all over traffic for a long time, doing something in his lap with a strong rhythmic motion. I was unwilling to take this any further, preferring to remain solidly in brother-in-law’s blind spot. When he pressed something against the passenger window of his car, I reluctantly pulled up to see what it was: his cellphone number. He does not suffer from 4, previous. I dialed it while driving, an act which nearly killed everyone around me, and connected to a local lumber yard. My brother-in-law suspected I would do this, and spent the time scratching out his area code for me to read in good time. I redialed, completely, and began to talk to my brother-in-law as we drove side-by-side on a crowded freeway. The call cost me seven dollars, and I don’t remember a thing he said.
- While in the Hamptons, I kept the cellphone on and within reach 24 hours a day. This ended up being great cover for what would otherwise be a situation of glaring outsiderdom. But in reality it meant that if the cellphone rang, my Ma was dead or dying. The kids were perturbed by it, bless their homespun manhattan hearts, and they urged me to ditch it in order to make me easier to sit on and drag around the place. I can’t, I said, I have to keep it on in case The President calls. I felt this lie was easier than the truth, and it seemed to stop them cold. They wanted me to call the President right away, and not wait for him to call me. I can’t, I said. This phone only accepts incoming calls. To prove this, I tried dialing, having become an expert at programming the dysfunction of my own phone. Why would the President be calling you, they asked, with a little too much incredulity. He is the people’s representative, I reminded them, it would not be so unusual would it? Indeed it would. Very well, I said, he’s the leader of the free world and I’m integral to his plans, if I tell you anymore I’ll have to kill you. This brought great laughter, so I finally broke down and told them the truth: I’m the President’s Analyst. No reaction. I blame myself.
- Somewhere along the way, I programmed my phone to Auto-Answer on the third ring. I always turn on my phone and place it in the coffee cup holder when I hit the road for another caregiving commute, in case the people who pressured me to purchase it call me to tell me to hurry it up, dammit. Then I put the radio on Scan and listen to whatever signal is strong enough for less than five seconds over the course of 90 miles. This is akin to tying a brick to the channel up button and turning on the tv as you sink into the couch, then firing the couch into space. You’ll cycle endlessly through the bandwidth, collaging a post-post-post modern experience. So post it’s pre. Caves of Altamira, if you hang with it long enough. The hum of 150 channels says about as much about us as those paintings say about them. Where was I? Auto-Answer. If someone has rung me, and I don’t know yet if someone has, then they may have heard me yowling along to a Supertramp song for less than 5 seconds, then recoiling in horror at the reverb used in many Spanish-language stations to make the announcers sound more thunderous, then cranking up the death metal as I dutifully snake by the high school microwatts. Sometimes I imagine my Ma’s lawyer has called me to confirm some asset or some liability. Caught in the act of being myself, she vows never to see me in the same way. I headbang through New Country, however briefly, knowing that, at least in my imagination, I have disillusioned an attorney. If I could, I would put a buncha buckshot through the next road sign I see.
- The only other calls I make on the phone are to Z, and I make them to him as I’m walking up behind him, so he can turn around and look at me, exasperated-like. One time I called him every 30 seconds but the line was busy, causing me to dip down into BART, forcing me to board a train, compelling me to get off at my stop, and driving me to walk home, one foot after the other. At any moment, I knew I would connect and Z would hop in the car and pick me up and take me to eat sushi. In fact, the line was busy a full half hour after I got home, at which point I picked up the cell phone and called him, just to see how he was doing. He told me I wasn’t coming in very clearly, me being in the loft and him being in the kitchenspacelikearea, so I picked up the receiver in the loft and talked to him through that mouthpiece and the mouthpiece of my cellphone. He asked if it was OK to put me on speakerphone, and I agreed, doing likewise from my perch. I rang off the cellphone, but stayed on the speakerphone catching up on the days events until the mechanical operator intervened and told us if we would like to make a call, to hang up and try our call again. I considered it, then rang off. Z continued on with her for a little while longer, but it soon turned one-sided. I wish he would pay more attention to me.
- Four times now I’ve forgotten to bring the cellphone with me when I’m on the road. And we all know why. I hate that phone and cannot integrate it into my life, unless I start using it as a hammer. It’s a bleak vision: me in the car practicing radio interruptus while a phone bleats on the counter 90 miles away. And like many things in my bleak life, very fitting.
On the strength of that alone, one of the best things I ever bought.
I rent cars every few days, in lieu of admitting I need a car of my own, and a car payment of my very own to go with it. Up and down that corridor for 90 minutes, I’ve become one of the regulars, with all the priviledge it affords: a keen sense of where the humming pavement is, as opposed to the pockity pavement; a huge violence lying in wait for slowdowns, whereever they may occur; and a certainty that although the road has curves and switchbacks, I now can make the drive without ever registering that I’ve turned the wheel.
Yesterday I was followed by a woman gesticulating wildly. She was driving solo in a car with the trademark “e” on the license plate: we were in the presence of an employee of the State of California. Her car, whether she liked it or not, had been turned into a fishbowl, and we were all edgy cats studying the contents.
So I observed. Her gestures were not rhythmic, but just in case I scanned the radio dial for that song that might light her up in pure pop abandon. Nothing synched, but I did hear that barrel- voiced biblical scholar on three different points on the dial. He sounds altered to protect his identity, or slowed in speed to fill the available time slot. God is like that.
Then she smacked herself really hard in the face. Eyebrow raised, I made snap judgements about her diagnosis of Tourette’s, no, she just augered in on an exam, no, her evil twin inside, no, someone below her reaching up, nice, but implausible, and finally came to rest on the obvious:
A State Worker Is Falling Asleep On Highway 80 East.
Head shakes, rattling of limbs, swerving, facial exercises (I think that’s a charitable way of putting it), more self-abuse and pure shouting, which I will describe as wordless and incoherent. Not once did she pull over and buy a 44 ounce diet pepsi and eat a box of mounds bars. I pulled up parallel to see if I could signal to her that the jig was up and it was nighty-night time, but she was lost to me, us, that.
With a yawn, I accelerated diligently into her horizon.
There is an Englishman in my head and he’s been there since I was about 15 years old. He speaks to me, and he says everything I want to hear.
I have thusly relieved myself of a great burden.
So I managed a great acceptance today: It is imperative that I look both ways, that I check the blind spots two or three times really, it is for the best. In lieu of standing my ground I may elect the option of giving way, live and let live, in consideration of speed, distance and mass. It’s the best course. I’m not taking care of myself in many other ways, but I’m going to, I swear, starting if not right now, right near now. And in so doing, everything about me will sing this:
I want to live.
From the moment I pry open my eyes to the moment I cement them shut. In the body and out. With sun and with shade, and with the evening ending atmosphere that seems to come around here all the time. I can live with that. I can feel the ions’ tiny smacks. My psychic posture is one of uprightness, arms out, head bowed slightly and eyes closed in gratitude, three-quarters right head turn. Now that I think of it, you could run up behind me with a cross and nail my psyche to it and it would look perfectly natural. But my psyche is not sacrificing, I assure you.
It’s just stretching out to create more surface area.
I have to feel more air. I have to hear more stories. I have to reflect more light.
I have to live.
And if you want to know why your first guess is correct: what else can any one of us do? Setting that aside, I think I want to live because I am, archeologically speaking, not in order. I believe if I die now I am going to leave a mess. Not a personal one, a pooling one that requires a special service to eradicate, but a mess along the line of a few drawers and shopping bags, sloppily filled and stowed,that would reveal something not particularly important about my life, which I am living right now to the fullest, but nevertheless would be very revealing. I’ll try again.
There is, throughout my studio, deep inside something else, which undoubtedly someone would run across in the course of things, something that would throw everything into a different light. And sadly! It is really of no importance that I have the Penthouse Magazine from 1989 featuring the interview with Sandra Bernhardt, but heavily creased in the pictorial of a turn of the century strip poker party played by two (who’s counting?) women. And the twenty or thirty rolls of monofilament, each with about 6 feet missing due to the fact the prior roll was purchased, trimmed, and promptly lost? It says nothing about me. And the conversations? The hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of screed, once admired for its swirly longhand now fully indecipherable two minutes after it’s been written? Ignore. Make no comparison to the sketchbooks of Crumb’s psychotic and clearly more talented brother. That would hurt me even though I would be already dead. The hurt would come after me like a brick through the window of my afterlife, and make me shudder in embarrassment, wince at the hubris. Don’t. What about the disgusting? Can it really be that I came home twelve years ago, undressed and fell asleep drunk then awoke to be missing my underpants, soaked in nonoxyl-9 as I thought them to be, but undiscoverable? Is it true they were always there, undetected, packed and unpacked and repacked after moving to four different residences since that time? Have you just found them as you pore over my effects in the wake of my untimely death, when I have not been able to find them lo these many years and countless attempts and rationalizations? Do you think I have a wierd ritual panty thing now? I do not. It’s not that. It can be explained. I will live to find them and take them from you prematurely so you do not have to go through the pain and bewilderment of their discovery. Nothing motivates me more to stay alive than finding my underwear before a grieving loved one does.
I am driven. I am filled with the life force. I am actually glowing. Right now.
Living it up, reducing my risk and yours. Up with a broom and a blow torch to eradicate all of this detritus from my evolution. I’m eager for everyone to see me in the authentic sound of Now. In the Instant. Every second spent in the Present. Fully, inarguably, simply alive.
No unintelligible drawers, no cascading shopping bags, no boxes in the back of the closet, no unfamiliar phone numbers in my pockets.
Just a little document like this one that sets all the other ones free.
…with this analogy
Ken was demurring when he told the reporter that he may decide to take half a hit and sit on the couch (or was it a hill?) on Easter morning. I imagine he has enterprises to manage, and the sort of insights regular dosing would provide may not be productive to those goals. Or maybe he’s lying. My other idea was that such a personal thing, in addition to being illegal, was just not important to talk about anymore, unless you are, like Terrence was that night at the Great American, cultivating the rapt attention of people aged 13 to 22. These people don’t remember the Bus, or the horror we felt when the one pilgrimaging to the Smithsonian was casually introduced as a refurbished fake. I’m under the impression the real bus broke down somewhere and became a part of the landscape out in Veneta. My heart broke at the news that both the Merry Pranksters and the Smithsonian curatorial staff had settled for second best.
In my brother’s shop, he has a glowing duratrans of Ken pondering the future, which seems to lie somewhere to the upper left of the Bus he stands in front of. The same photographer caught production stills of playing the pale but still supple corpse of Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. Exhibited together in this way, I see a little story of America each time I enter through the lobby of the shop. If I can help it, I come in the back.
I’m too young for the Bus myself. During college, we toted and tended PA and AV for NORML, Ken-proofed lauvilier mics with duct tape, ripped bongs and dosed early and often, but we knew we were way too late, despite the refinements in the chemical intensity of our sixties legacy. Better, faster, deeper, more, we slipped through the eighties never mixing and never worrying, never doing what we were selling, never impounded, grounded or caught outside, little angels of set and setting.
So when we stood around, fully thirty-something, waiting for the Firesign Theater show to start, the obligatory rock concert doob made its rounds and I took a professional draw and baked it in my lungs for a very very long time. Its effect was instantaneous, but I was unaware of it all the same. Attempting to get the attention of the group, I was very excited to report that an Elvis impersonator had come to the show. How redemptive! I exclaimed. We no longer need to be ashamed to be supporting this obviously greedy and predatory assault on our nostalgia nerve by the washed-up Firesign Theater crew, who, after all, got to fade away and get bit work in car commercials. Someone has taken it to a new level, and is far fucking fat as hell with the late elvis belt buckle and karate pants! It’s all a big lie, muchachos! We’re all pretending!
Concerned hands moved me into the theater, their little president hurried away from the trouble in the street. I had mistaken a large policeman for an Elvis impersonator in the twilight, and he was visibly weighing whether to write me the show-stopping misdemeanor ticket that would end my political career, if it was ever to begin, or to let my big mouth go.
And I’m too young for Firesign Theater, too. In my labile state, their deft use of Joyce in a coda to a sketch had a thundering effect on me. I began to believe people in the sixties were smarter, more engaged, better read and closer to the authentic expression of self. I forgave them all their changes, their sell-outs, their failed experiments, their bad clothing, and their spawn. I yearned, from my seat in the P row, for a chance to think, on a regular basis, as quickly as these people on stage had once, when they composed the original sketch.
You are so funny, I would say.
You are so stoned, they would say.
We had samples, don’t ask us how, of John Perry Barlow skewering David Gans on the radio with a public reading of Pacifica Radio’s rules of allowable speech: the Senstive Language Request/Report form. As Barlow made his way through the foyer of 1015, he passed under the deep sound of us collaging this rant with the low subharmonics of Sound Traffic Control, the twitch of Bob Ostertag, and the ominous chorus of live electronica. Welcome to the Digital Be-In, sad monster child of Leary’s shining circus of intentional community that convened in January 1967. Eyes closed and aching with inadequacy, I layered and layered and layered and layered sound, trying to beat down the thought, now quite deafening in my head, that I was only five years old when this whole thing started. Thinking in a compound fashion, making connections between disparate elements, leaping and inverting imagery, sound, ideas and motion: being, I felt quite clearly, free and yet, quite clearly, not.
Passing the test and failing. On the bus and off. Sliding into the wake of big, beautiful, pioneering craft. In here, it’s wholly different water than the kind they’re encountering up front.