There were signs of impending divorce all over the house. The dog wanted to be around us because he was lonely and the man with the guitar sang his sad songs in the bedroom down the hall because he wanted to be alone. Leila and I were dressed in kimonos and sitting cross-legged on the floor. On her lap was a book about fairies.
“Look here,” said Leila. She pointed to a drawing of a ring of mushrooms. A ruined old man in tattered clothing was on his hands and knees crawling away from it. “This is a fairy ring.”
I told her I didn’t know what that was.
“If you step inside a fairy ring, the fairies make you dance with them. They pull you around and around and around. And when they finally let go, you realize decades have passed—and suddenly you are very old.”
She closed the book and stood up. In her pink kimono she examined her own room. “I see things I like and I see things I don’t like. I want the things I like to stay forever. I want the things I don’t like to go away.”
And what do you like? I said.
“I like the things that are beautiful.” She pointed to a picture hung up above the fireplace which showed the migration paths of birds from North America to South America. “Like this. This is good,” she said.
Leila walked to the other side of the room. She took off her kimono and laid it out neatly on her bed. “This too,” she said. “I want to wear this forever. It’s telling me secrets right now.” She laughed.
The mason jar on her bedside table was empty. I picked it up and said I was going to the kitchen to fill it.
Leila put her kimono back on and padded over to me in her bare feet. Her face was rosy and her eyes were shining liquid. “Downstairs I have blueberries,” she said, “and there’s nothing I want more right now than blueberries.”
Quietly she opened the door and crept down the stairs. Her kimono flowed behind her. With the empty mason jar in my hand I followed her to the lamplit rooms below.
It is 6 a.m. and I am trapped in a Starbucks in Houston, Texas. I took a bus from Lafayette with a stopover in Houston—and it was here they denied me passage to Austin.
If I could cry I guess I would have cried when they told me they couldn’t reprint my $90 bus ticket, and that I would be stranded in this fucking city until I figured out what the hell to do with myself.
With nowhere to go I sat in the station squeezing my backpack with what little strength I had left in me. The twisted scum you see at every Greyhound station haunted my stronghold and lustfully eyed my bag and my shoes and my jacket. I can’t imagine why—it’s all shit.
Nearby two idiots talked about how they wanted to assassinate the president. Several diapers were changed just inches from my leg. A cooler full of ice and hot dogs spilled out onto the floor. Some guy asked me if I had a sandwich in my pocket.
I stared at the sky from behind filthy glass and waited for the sun. I figured when it came up I would be relatively safe—and maybe then the dead-gazed psychopaths outside would disperse and I could go somewhere that was quiet and not lit with hateful fluorescent bulbs.
But they decided to clean the lobby around 5 a.m. They threw me out onto the street. It was still black and shadowy. As soon as I walked through the doors and into the humid grease-stained nightmare of downtown Houston in July, a dozen or so people descended upon me and asked for money and drugs and sinister favors. And I said to them: “Jesus, look at me. Do you really think I have any fucking money?”
A woman approached me as I struggled to get away, saying, “I just got out of jail. Can I have some money?”
“I have nothing,” I said. “Nothing. I’m stuck.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t spend a year in jail.”
I didn’t know what else to say so I said this: “OK.”
I kept walking.
For a mile I traversed the ugly parts of this town. I saw dozens of shirtless men in their fifties curled up in the grass or in the doorways of darkened businesses.
And now here I am, finally, alone in this stupid coffee shop. I have had way too much coffee and can find no friendly faces. There is a live Crosby, Stills & Nash album blaring from the speakers. My ex-girlfriend is mad at me and there’s blood in my mouth.
I have no idea why there is blood in my mouth.
In an hour I will start walking again and attempt to find some way to get west. There is a woman waiting for me 160 miles in that direction. She has said I can sleep in her bed while she is at work. I cannot imagine a more beautiful thought to cling to. Maybe that thought is the only thing keeping me alive right now.
And listen: if I get out there and they do kill me, I hope it’s quick and painless.
I love you all. See you in hell. ☆
NEW ORLEANS—Ryan “Baby Star” Starsailor announced today amidst the torrential rainfall and violent chaos of the 7th Ward that he had come out of retirement and would resume his previous non-occupation of traveling the United States of America under the pretense of “wanting to hang out and write some crap.”
“I just got sick of paying bills, man,” said Starsailor, wiping tears from his eyes. “Those Oakland streets were really chewing me up. I have a lot of fun over there and I’m gonna stick around for a long time, but I gotta start going places like I used to or I’m gonna pop.”
Starsailor, whose recent trip to New Orleans awakened him to the fact that he had been vacantly staring at the same walls for far too long, says he plans to completely change the way he earns money and fills the hours in order to accommodate his desired lifestyle of transience and discomfort.
“When I get back home I figure I’ll drive rich people around in that old police car me and John have to make some money. I’ve done it a couple dozens times in San Francisco and people go nuts about it. Maybe now that I’ll be making my own schedule and earning every penny myself I’ll have time to go off and finish my novel. That thing needs to be done already—before I’m done, if you know what I mean. It just isn’t happening right now. I’m spread too thin. If you saw me right now you’d say, ‘Now there goes a broken man.’ I’m static and vapor. I’m a ghost’s fart.”
Before losing consciousness, Starsailor had this to add: “Baby—what else can I say: I’m back. I’m ready to go places and write and sleep on your couch while you’re at work. I’m a free man. I gotta be free. I was dead for a while but now I’m alive again. As alive as I’ll ever be, anyway. And that’s something. It certainly isn’t nothing.”
I don’t feel well. I closed all the shutters in Leila’s room partly for the novelty, but mostly because I’m tired of seeing the sun. A thunderstorm woke me this morning and I figured it would keep raining all day—in fact I hoped it would, I haven’t seen rain in three months—but it stopped around noon and the sky has been clear since.
Beyond the closed shutters and ten feet below me is a little garden. I tried to get to it but an iron-wrought gate kept me from entering through the back door in the kitchen. When Leila gets home I will ask her where the key is. For now I am trapped inside this ancient house.
All day I have watched the light move across the sky, have watched the plants shake on this desk whenever I tap a single key on my computer. The air conditioner is on and the room is cool. The rest of the house is steamy and humid but it feels nice.
At this point I have had three cups of tea and a sip of Leila’s lukewarm Anchor Steam she took from a bar last night—a bar where you can get a haircut while you drink. I found an apple in the refrigerator and ate that too. It didn’t do much for me though. My stomach is so empty it hurts. I have considered walking to Cake Cafe a mile away to get something to eat. I haven’t been there in three years. I remember it being good. But I also feel fine here even with all that emptiness inside me.
And anyway the door is still locked, and I still don’t know what to do about that. I could open a top-story window and climb down but I don’t know how I’d get back up. If I fell I might break something. Despite the State of California’s near-daily insistence that I have health insurance, I don’t actually have health insurance. So I’m here.
The entire house shakes when a truck passes. At least a hundred have passed by today. I don’t know if that’s normal. I’ve only been here a day.
In the darkness Leila and I walked beneath gaslit lanterns and alien vegetation. She told me a cyclist was hit by a tractor-trailer just blocks from where we were. She said someone took a picture and she had seen it. The cyclist was decapitated and his legs were separated from his torso. People are getting raped and mugged too, she said. New Orleans, for all its strange beauty, is still mostly a lawless place. As we went along I scanned the blackness and the hidden places there for the ugly faces that would do us harm.
A complete stranger has just called. She says she wants to take me to a park. I told her I would go as long as she had me back by six-thirty. That is when Leila returns, and when the two of us will eat those little squares from Golden Gate Park just to see what happens.
Tomorrow I go to Lafayette. On Monday I go to Austin. After that I guess I’ll go home.
(Previously: THE GREAT DUCK MURDER)
At noon I emerged from my nest of rags with a football of dog feces lodged in my throat . . . nothing but static in my head, bones twisted and wrong, tar under my fingernails. Breathing in that stale midday air I knew it was going to be another miserable eighteen hours of wakefulness—of chaos and scattered sadness and barely perceptible tragedies that I alone would witness. Some I would even render myself.
Walking down the hallway I made known to absolutely no one at all my opinion on waking up, and on being alive in general: “This again, huh.”
I needed fluids, so I stomped into the bathroom and drank a half gallon of water from the faucet, hoping to kill the taste and push it—whatever it was—into a bath of stomach acid deep below.
In the mirror I saw a bloated armadillo carcass and decided it was probably my face. I hadn’t shaved in days. There was cigarette ash in my hair. The spiderweb cracks under my eyes whispered, Sooner than later you’ll be dead.
Soaked in cold water I lurched down the hallway toward the stove, slumping against the wall to keep from falling down, and once in the mouth of the kitchen I grabbed a marker and managed to scribble on the dry-erase board above the trash can the only English words I could find in my brain:
“THERE WAS A LITTLE TOOL SHED WHERE HE MADE US SUFFER, SAD SATAN”
Against the adjacent wall was a mile-high stack of tin cans and beer bottles and crushed cereal boxes. On the floor I saw tumbleweeds of cat hair. I put the kettle on the burner and flicked the dial left till fire appeared from some hidden place. It was high time for tea. Hell, it was high time for hate.
Sitting naked on the couch, eyes dumb and drooping, I examined my arms, skeletal and poorly assembled, a thin layer of skin saran-wrapped around the mangled structure of some damn thing that once worked the way it should. The sunlight was all bad and the air was hot and heavy. I took in a chunky lungful and nearly threw up in my mouth but stopped short. Really ought to have just gone ahead and let it out of me, I thought . . . probably would have been more honest that way. But I was barely anything at all just then, and to lose more of myself seemed irresponsible.
I glanced down at my dick and frowned. There was nothing new to report on that front.
Sunset and Dawn were out on the porch sucking down cigarettes like Coca-Cola and I could tell I wanted nothing to do with their conversation. I heard “Well, it’s simply a perversion of the Oedipus complex. . . .” and knew I had to get the hell out of there before I screamed myself stupid.
Stood up and arched my back and listened to the bubbly chemicals between my vertebrae snap, crackle, and pop. For a moment I considered sitting down at the pathetic little desk in my bedroom to sort through case files. We had a whole stack of them that Sunset and I hadn’t bothered with for months . . . we’d been content to jerk off after midnight and dream of nicer weather . . . but the thought rotted away and instead I shook my head and closed my eyes and held my breath and tried to picture someone, anyone, who would drop to their knees when they heard I was cold and empty-eyed for-ever—and finding no one in my mind’s rolodex, I placed one death-white foot forward, not sure why, the wood under my feet disagreeable, then another, still bad, eyes slammed shut and sparkling with violent broken sparks, and walked straight into a wall, feeling nothing. My eyes and brain weren’t making moving pictures of the world any longer, at least not then, and so I bathed in the sad dark soup in my head, hearing the faint mumbling of the assholes outside who were still going on about this and that and sounding a whole lot like a couple of cavemen who had taken a few community college courses one summer a long fucking time ago.
Somewhere in the house, I think near the washing machine, I thought about the impulses of animals: to eat, to sleep, to fuck, to shit somewhere safe.
What were mine? Certainly nothing of consequence. To be destroyed? To cackle wildly in the face of great evil? To be comforted by the warmth of another human body? All window-dressing.
But Jesus, that Roth girl really had combed my hair with her fingers the night before in the dark wastes of ruby-lighted bar over by Lake Merritt. Hadn’t she?
Yes, she had connected her body to mine and quickly disconnected it once I had uttered the wrong thing—or had she simply heard the wrong thing? I couldn’t remember. Probably never knew what I had been saying in the first place. Just rambling for the sake of hearing the sound of my voice, crisp and dumb.
I shivered when I recalled her punching me in the chest and telling me I was a worthless creep before storming out of the place. And I had chased her outside where she threw her bicycle light at me, saying, “God damn these cheap batteries!” and me saying, “Baby, don’t go.”
A trio of homeless guys hanging out nearby chuckled when she angrily sped away from me. I must have looked like a dope, standing there holding that dead light and not knowing why.
But for those few minutes back in the bar her touch had gone right in me, and then through me, and working its way along the tar pits deep below, gave me the faintest hope for myself and every living creature out there who is insane and foolish enough to say ‘yes’ to tomorrow. . . .
Every night I drive aimlessly around Lake Merritt and through downtown Oakland and into the peaceful vanilla suburbs surrounding Berkeley. I try to forget about how little money I have, and how I don’t have health insurance, and how I probably own too few pairs of underwear. I go to dark places and see the darkness there. And once inside of it I park beneath a row of trees and get out. I wander the streets and put poison in my lungs. I stare emptily at warmly-lit windows and wonder about the mundane things going on behind them.
I walk by playgrounds and remember that children exist.
In vain I hope that someone will invite me into their house to drink tea and listen to music. Or climb small buildings and look at the hills.
No one else is around. I am alone. I am the only one seeing the nothing that happens there at night.
Later I drive back to Ghost Town and park the car two blocks from my house. I kill the engine and sit there listening to a few songs. Eventually I decide to go home. Walking down Sab Pablo Avenue I see graffiti on the sidewalk that I have passed hundreds of times. It says “GOD IS LOVE.” I think about getting a can of spray paint and changing it to “GOD IS TIRED.”
As I turn onto my street a homeless man asks me for a buck and I hand him a two-dollar bill I was planning to include in a letter to a pretty girl in Lafeyette. He tries to sell me a suitcase and I decline.
Further down another man asks if he can give me his dentures for collateral. I say, “Collateral for what?” and with watery eyes he says, “Brother I just need ten dollars to make it through the week.” I tell him to keep his teeth and I go inside and find whatever bills I have on my desk and give them to him.
I lock the door behind me and put the kettle on the burner. I make sleepytime tea and take a melatonin. I have absentmindedly made the fatal error of combining the two. Either I will sleep forever or I will die before the sun comes up. As far as I can tell there is no real difference between these outcomes.
Dante jumps on the kitchen counter and chirrups to let me know he is hungry. With a silver knife that is not mine I slice a puck of expensive cat food in half and shovel it out of a tin can and into a little blue bowl. I pour warm water over it and set it on the floor. He laps it up and purrs.
I don’t open the cabinets or the refrigerator to make food for myself. I have no food for myself.
I go into my room and sit in the center of my bed. Under the glow of many Christmas lights I write letters to people in Texas and Virginia and Quebec and Nova Scotia. The window is open and I hear my neighbor screaming at her children.
Blade Runner is muted on my television. I glance up at the screen and watch Harrison Ford kiss Sean Young for maybe the five-hundredth time in my life.
No one will be coming to kiss me tonight or any night. When they want to see me they will make me come to them. And mostly I won’t.
When I sleep I dream of all the different ways I could die.
Tonight my car is on Stinson Beach. There are no stars and no moon in the sky. I am sitting in the driver’s seat looking at the ocean. I am not thinking of anything. After a while my vision goes black.
Now I am someone else and it is daylight. I trace the tire tracks in the sand to the decommissioned police car resting near the shoreline. The inside windows are covered in blood. The person behind the wheel is probably dead. I am probably dead. I don’t approach the car. I wince at the sun. I stare at the waves.