This week I was taken by a fellow Virginian to a pirate radio station in San Francisco, to accompany him on the air for a two hour slot. He played a few recorded interviews with his sisters regarding the sexual abuse perpetrated by his own father. The final audio selection of his was a tape recorded in the back of a moving van somewhere in northern California, a scatterbrained outpouring of reflections on his flight from the eastern seaboard.
After the pieces aired he left the studio for a contemplative walk down the street. I played a few experimental ambient tracks, read my piece Red to the four or five listeners, and wound it off with one of the notorious fire-and-brimstone sermons of 1920s Chicago preacher, the Reverend A. W. Nix.
We ate chicken and ribs at a greasy spoon in the Mission district, walked to a German pub in an attempt to flirt with the bartender only to learn the place was closed for a private party, then rode the god-forsaken train back to the East Bay talking of discomforting truths.
We went back to his house, where two van-dwelling hippie ramblers had recently found sanctuary. I came into his room and found them on the floor, massaging one another and giggling about all sorts of gibberish. I asked one of them what was so funny.
“Everything is one,” she said.
“Well that’s inconvenient,” I said.
There were five of us reclined on the mattress listening to Otis Redding. My fellow Virginian, a recent transplant from Scotland with dyed hair and painted nails, the two topless hippie women, and myself. We polished off my half bottle of red wine and passed around some watered-down bourbon. I declined the churchwarden of weed circling the room, opting to blow cigarette smoke out the window instead. I felt lethargic. My mind lept to quotations from The Lotos Eaters.
The Virginian rose from the bed to prime the showing of videos he made some years ago. He appeared in them wearing a variety of outfits, disheveled clothing salvaged from his parents’ house after the truth about his father came to light. He appeared with the tools of his boyhood, weilding fake swords, wearing ski goggles, rummaging through fantasy figurines, often holding his cat, dancing around his aunt’s garage, babbling at the camera, slipping in subtle references to patricide.
It was silly. But after a while, when the gentle neurosis in the room began to weigh on me and I bid them all goodnight, and I lay sprawled on my own bed in the dark, it wasn’t silly anymore.
Imagine, you wake up one day to find your childhood was a sham, perverted and undone by the transgressions of the man who sired you. What is there left to do but unmake yourself, and lapse into a second childhood of marijuana smoke and abstruse humor fueled by the watchful eye of a low-res handcam.
THE GREAT DUCK MURDER, or “You’re Going to Be Jerking Off Alone on the Moon Forever”
My partner was pacing the hall while I did pull-ups in the bathroom doorframe. I was thinking about Satan and a girl I used to love. The subjects were unrelated. I flipped between them effortlessly: Satan here, the girl there. I felt bad for Satan. I hardly cared about the girl.
An hour earlier we had loaded our bodies with miserable chemicals and I knew that soon enough we would be twisted, slobbering freaks. Already the blue Christmas lights strung up on the ceiling were vibrating and swirling in my head. It wouldn’t be long until we were a couple of psychos with nothing to lose. And then things would get really ugly—and they were ugly already.
Satan, the poor bastard. He was all I could think about. Everything else dropped out of my mind. I eased my feet onto the hardwood floor and put on my purple cardigan. I took a mug from the cabinet and stood by the stove, waiting for the kettle to scream out like a toothless whore. I needed a hot beverage in me if I was going to make it through the night. For an instant I considered dumping it all over my balls. Probably would’ve felt better than anything else that’s happened to the damn things.
“Are you depressed?” said Detective Sunset, still pacing. He didn’t look at me. “You seem a little depressed is all.”
“Terribly,” I said.
“About the duck?”
“The duck’s got me down.”
“Yeah.” Sunset took a cigarette from his pocket and placed it between his lips. I thought about those lips for a half-second. God, when was the last time some unsuspecting woman had touched those things with hers? Years, I reckoned. Dark years. Darker than the Grim Reaper’s dick, even. The thoughts turned to vapor and Sunset started mumbling in Latin.
“You really gotta get off that stuff. The cigarettes, I mean. Our insides are rotten enough, man. No need to light them on fire.”
“I need this. It’s all I’ve got.”
I wasn’t going to argue with him there. If this creep wanted to smoke himself stupid, then who was I to stand in the way? Jesus. I imagined someone threatening to take away my little iota of happiness. Happiness . . . the word made my skeleton rattle. What the fuck was happiness? Maybe I had none of it. No, I definitely didn’t. It had eluded me for years. And now it was my enemy. Fuck happiness. It was just a nice thing that the squares liked to pretend actually existed. It was that faraway dream—that hidden box in the attic. Open it up and you get a bucket of vampire turds. Happiness. For god’s sake, what a miserable joke that stuff was.
I cleared my throat. I went on: “What are we going to do about this duck?”
“Where’s the body?” He was looking at his shoes. Maybe the stuff was ramping up big time now. Maybe those shoes looked pretty fucking crazy to him. A joke came to mind and I almost said it aloud: Lemme get some of whatever he’s having. But I had had what he was having. Shit, I’d had twice as much—and I’m not just talking about the lysergic cocktail we’d swallowed down. Three times as much. Yes, I’ve had three times as much. Years of bad spookiness. Years of unanswered prayers. This kid probably still felt things.
Opening my mouth and smoothing out the cobwebs, I said, “They burned the body this morning.”
Sunset spun his head around and laser-focused on my skull so intensely I thought he might burn a hole through my god damn forehead. His hair was wild and behind the cigarette I could see his yellow teeth grinding together. “They burned it?”
“Burned it till there was nothing left.” I was watching the kettle and absentmindedly groping my own testicles. God, they felt fantastic.
Don’t Answer That Pay Phone
Awake, mouth full of steel wool and cold light seeping in from the wide window. She rises from the floor and all but floats to the closet, tears from its shadowy skeleton-dwelling insides the outfit of a sophisticated wiccan, like the performance from a horror sideshow where plastic tubes and live animals are removed from a human body on an operating table in silhouette behind a curtain.
“You can sleep in here, if you like.”
“What am I supposed to wake up and fuck?”
“Whatever you want.”
She left me a drill with a bit just the right size, sheets of rubber, and a pint of her own saliva. She knows me so well. If only I could remember her name.
At the door slam behind her a hunchbacked lab assistant in my rotten inky mind throws the switch. An idea comes upon me. This idea is so pure in its intentions, so full of the impetus to change the world for the better, that God Himself has no choice but to reach down His ethereal hand and pluck it hot and steaming from my brain and flick it like a stray booger between thumb and Almighty forefinger into a literally bottomless ocean on a liquid planet four galaxies distant.
And He plucks also the memory of its coming, so that this crusty husk of a human being lying naked and tosseled in blankets on the floor feels only a sudden unbearable hollowness without cause, and in turn the desperate need to fill the fresh chasm with thought, emotion, anecdote, action.
So I rise from the floor and leap to the bookshelf to throw tome after priceless occult tome over my shoulder. When the shelf is clear it reveals a nook carved in the wall, like the sacred stash of a political dissident in a sixteenth century prison, and there I find the garbled trove of her personal journals.
Ah yes, sweet secrets. These will assuage my lust for narrative. I grab the first leatherbound coffee-stained notebook and for a weighty handful of moments delay the satisfaction of unknown words within by reading bizarre mythology into the constellation of cigarette burns on the cover: And for his sins which were numerous and spectacular the gods cast his angular visage in the heavens for all to see as warning to night watchers the world over their transgressions might one day shed the beauty of anonymity if they gain to escalate beyond a certain pleasure index.
I rip it open four inches from my eyes to a random entry.
October 28th, 1987 — 00:09
Thirteen years to the day. My father went to his grave without knowing. Why did I swallow his goldfish. Why did he not seem to care it was gone.
A Strange Pilgrim in a Stolid Land: After the Legend (A Gritt Calhoon Tale)
When hit with a burst from Gritt Calhoon’s sawed-off scatter blaster the short auburn hairs on the head of that lowly dew farmer spread into the atmosphere with such force that they actually managed to pierce the center beam that kept much of the roof of Dabeigo’s Gourd—a local watering hole for sapphire miners and the filthy indigenous good-people of Thaiwanland—and inserted themselves straight into the wood like nails shot from the center of a hurricane. His skull fared no better. Pieces of it were everywhere. Later Gritt Calhoon would recall this particular incident, or one like it, and say, “I blew his mind, man. S’all I can tell ye.”
Antwerp Angelinotoni’s mustache twitched. A fine Thaiwanlander, though he was of a more ancient descent. Not Thaiwanese. He was actually British. Whatever the hell that was. No longer did the Union Jack fly proud over the Isle of Wight, or of Man for that matter.
“You mind tellin’ me,” Gritt addressed, “exactly why you wanted t’go a meetin’ in a place whose patrons are so readily willing to meet booda—” he paused, “that they would menace an innocent man, one who has only come to this fine establishment in need of drink, and to cause all manner of retarded shit to run through his mind?!” Gritt flared his nostrils, giving him the facial expression most akin to that of some dead Nipponesian demon reading the Sunday newspaper.
The question wasn’t being posed to his old C.O. and friend, Antwerp, as much as it was being posed to every other human being left alive on this miserable planet: Earth.
Jesus. Gritt’s leather was tight. At six-feet eight-inches, he was gargoyle made out of Aaron Neville parts and Lemmy entrails. His sexy-ass chest hair glistened.
In an instant the volume of that jungle went from simultaneously opening one-million bottles of Coke-Cola to the sound of water evaporating so fast, in fact, that when Gritt turned to make for the table where Antwerp was sitting the leather he wore made sounds like a dog ripped in half whose pieces were being used to mop the floor of a movie theater.
Antwerp broke the silence first.
“Smashing as ever you old gator, you. Really know how to clear a room.” The way Antwerp nervously greeted Gritt by pushing his weight up and down on the stump he was seated at reminded him of a five-year-old with birthday cake incoming. Antwerp had lost much of his former discus-throwing style physique. He was more pale than Gritt remembered. Freckles had multiplied. The jungle roughed up this ex-Brit’s edges. The humidity steamrolled his reddish hair. Gritt guessed he’d finished a bottle or two of some rye without any Vicodin chasers. Guy probably didn’t even smoke opium anymore. His abuse of the drink made his arms one size from shoulder to fingertip, but had made his guts balloon. The skin of his face drooped slightly. Old Antwerp still managed one helluva handlebar dick broom though, he thought.
The pornagraphic sound of Gritt’s leather got louder as he approached and the zippers and skulls on his jacket jingled and jangled against one another.
“Chuffed to see it’s only your devilish good looks that’ve been slain with age and not yourself.” Where the leather of Gritt’s weather-beaten jacket ended and the skin of his neck began was a mystery. “Too much sun maybe, old boy. I always thought you hillbillies aged so gracefully.”
The table flipped.
On August 23rd, 2013, I drove to the Pacific Ocean at midnight with a girl I knew immediately that I disliked very intensely. She was a self-described “gothic Lolita girl” and had arrived at the gates of my house wearing cat ears and clown make-up and six-inch glittery heels. Inside my head a voice screamed out in terror. It was not my voice. It was my father’s: “No. NO. NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOO.”
We drove north, winding through the darkness with the ocean a far drop below until we reached Stinson Beach. There she took off her enormous shoes and I thrust my hands into my pockets and we walked the beach under moonlight, seeing very little and feeling nothing. She told me about all the men who were in love with her, and how she didn’t care at all, and how she had almost overdosed in an abandoned factory in Detroit the previous winter, and then showed me a tattoo she had gotten of some football team—I don’t even remember which one. Then she explained every relationship she’d ever been in and how many times she had cheated on them and how really she only liked very tall guys who had poor social skills. And to all of this I stared at my shoes, half-buried in the sand, and said, “Oh.”
At 1 a.m. I sent my friend Delicious a note about my well-being: “This is literally the worst ‘hanging out with a girl’ experience I’ve ever had.”
An hour later we were rocketing through the forested roads on the edge of Muir Woods and she revealed to me how ass-backwards she truly was. She said she didn’t like sandwiches, hated avocados, hated movies, loved San Francisco, and that lyrics were exponentially more important than the music accompanying them.
She had a tattoo on her ankle, which she somehow showed me while also driving a car at 50 mph, that said, in Icelandic, “EVERYTHING MATTERS.” She told me her boyfriend at the time, a (in her words) “dumb-as-shit skinny Dutch model with a big dick” had gotten one that said, also in Icelandic, “NOTHING MATTERS.” And she called him a “grumpypants” and I felt my fucking innards begin to rot.
And I thought to myself, “Well, this is it. This is the last night I will ever care about anything.” (It had been a long time coming.)
She put on her favorite song, which was by some asshole whose name I can’t even remember, and began crying. She said it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard in her life. All I heard was every cell in my body screaming upward into that pale and terrible nothingness where I was headed. I could feel the sickness in my bones.
She dropped me off at 3 a.m. and hugged me and I put a limp and lifeless arm around her and got out. Inside the house I went into my cousin’s room and told him it was all over. He, half-asleep, assured me I would be fine.
In the morning I awoke and knew I was dead. I picked up my phone and told my master, Big Delicious, what it was I felt (or didn’t feel): “I woke up today and realized I finally don’t give a crap. Is this what it feels like to be you?”
To which he responded almost instantly: “Yes. But you haven’t reached total enlightenment yet. We must meditate on the concept that fear is everything and that everything is nothing. Only then can we achieve mastery over death.”
“She succeeded,” I said, “in doing what no other person who has come before has been able to do: she plunged me into that darkness from which no human can return.”
“Freedom,” said Baby Delicious, “terrible, terrible freedom. Thank god for this girl, really.”
“My ego exploded into moondust like an hour ago so I can’t feel anything anymore,” I said. “My sense of self is PAST TENSE.”
Delicious delivered his final line of wisdom while I was putting the kettle on: “We need a comet the size of Saturn to hit this rock we live on.”
The only thing I could say in return was the only thing anyone could say: “Yeah. We sure do.”
Join the Mile High Club (of Murder)
Didn’t matter then and doesn’t now. Maybe I dove into it just to feel something for a little while, half asleep and twisted at the wheel of that cursed machine on the winding highways of the Chesapeake watershed, blinking and smirking at every hallucinated abstraction. Music pours in sweet and sour, taste the familiarity of the chords, you’ve heard it a thousand times and it has become a place to bury yourself and hide away to wake maybe as a ghost in the morning a haunting presence forgotten at the edges of vision to others. I will become my greatest fear, an aimless ghost with nothing to lose and every reason to disrupt peaceable lives.
And from miles above the cities are anthills teeming and screwing themselves into the ground. The clouds bleed in and out of view, the Great Chicago Fire spreads like a plague from one happy home to the next. All things are smoke in the end. One hundred and forty two years later now and no progress, no acknowledgement of transience, no cities built of collapsable bricks to be reassembled by each generation in accordance with new aesthetic values, and the rich pour billions toward the cure for death.
The greatest fear of the mystic: all was solid, all experience purely physical, nothing beyond the electrical signals swapped by neurons, the mental state and the environment that gives birth to it equally immutable. But even the strawberry you swallow has to it a chemical composition that influences perception however infinitesimally for weeks, and in weeks there are hours, do not forget that within hours there are feelings. So what difference between chemical mischief and mystical bonds between all things. Why not faster-than-light quantum entanglement morse code between strands of deoxyribonucleic acid across the world and on through the void to other worlds to those creatures who have learned to understand.
Blind, these insectile feelers. Infinite mirrors, these many eyes sprouting. Where is the ritual that will not devolve into monotonous routine? Difficult, the avoidance of the imperative. False fricative fuming from fearful forces. Moaning monosyllables with no cause for truth. Dishonest, to play at words without regard for their impotence. Dishonest, to play at ideas with a lingering faith that keeps those ideas sacred.
So I take shelter in the lee of some unfeeling stone in the jungle, wet with rain exhausted and hungry, waiting for demons that will force a barrel-deep pipe into my mouth and fly me on the wings of a sentient avian palm tree steam powered by the smoke from my nostrils halfway across the world over the edge and into the torchlit palace to be presented as a gift, the new fool in the court of our sovereign goddess Hekate.