(as told by a ghost)
south by southwest day one
over the lake i bike downtown. a loose fitting v-neck clings to my chest. “you have a tight body,” she tells me later. the bridge is narrow and i glide by a blonde as her wind blown purple sundress brushes my arm. maybe because i lean into it. now i hear the music, everything in particular. perpetual motion plus so many venues in close succession allows me to create a pleasing melody of ambient bass guitar, raspy female vocals and well-timed strings. no longer makes sense to pedal, too many people walking without direction. i find the only empty bar, have a gin and tonic and leave. i find the bar i’m looking for, meet a friend, have some beer, have some rum, we take pills from strangers described as “mellow ecstasy.” the effects are mellow for me, less mellow for her. i’m really enjoying warm sun on my neck as i nod to the music. she’s digging her nails into my back, “i want to rip your skin off.” i don’t mind. “go ahead.” she also wants me to rip her skin off. i don’t. neon indian is pretty good, trippy electronic beats disguise the lack of a strong vocal presence and inconsequential lyrics. we dance, her hands wander underneath my loose fitting v-neck, “you have a tight body,” she tells me. the packed crowd digs the music, so i do too. i’m a little drunk when we walk to the next bar. this week all bars are referred to as venues, i usually still call them bars. the rooftop is less crowded, an acoustic singer/songwriter named ashley or maybe ashlee provides background music as i approach a girl with symmetrical bangs and medium short hair. “you have a great haircut,” i tell her. she reacts coolly almost as if she gets that a lot. she’s a photographer. she’s not wearing green, it’s st. patrick’s day. later that night i celebrate with two green jello shots at a half full bar without live music. daytime was better.
under the bridge i bike downtown. the lake smells pleasant like the beach. maybe i smell like the beach. already i’m having trouble weaving through upset cars and happy people. a girl with short texturized hair sprouting a flower smiles at me while a generic rock band with male vocals and treble heavy drums plays in someone’s yard. i still like them. i nearly run into the back of a parked car staring at her. the rest of the ride is unmemorable. the line is too long at the parish so i go to emos where a male vocalist with snug pants and billy idol quaffed hair sings in a soothing lyric soprano tone. i only hear half of one song before their set is over. even though they were good, i’m satisfied with the brevity. i’m thirsty so i drink a heineken. an aging power rock quartet comes on next but i spend most of the show watching the headbanging mohawk in a plaid skirt and trying to remember the last time i ate. he probably wore it yesterday. i swallow the last of another heineken in line for the bathroom when a flamboyant older man says, “wasn’t that a-maayy-zing?” i agree even though i didn’t hear a single lyric. and good lyrics are important to me. “sometimes, i still need you.” that’s a good lyric. it’s from a song by the xx and they are playing about a mile away. i better get going. the “venue” is a french museum courtyard on a hill. i like this place. the dum dum girls go on before the xx and even though i really have to pee i endure their entire set because the bathroom line is way too long and i’m worried i’ll miss the beginning. when the xx takes the stage they look different than i thought. the female lead cuts her hair like a teen boy and sings like an angel. the male parts his hair evenly down the middle and provides dynamic masculine accompaniment at the right times. they start their set with the song intro. the crowd energy is good but a group of teenagers are jumping around like they’re at a fall out boy concert. pete wentz is short. after intro they play crystalised, shelter, heart skipped a beat, “sometimes, i still need you” and infinity. i blink for first time in twenty minutes when infinity ends with a wispy percussion solo by oliver. even though they don’t play stars i feel complete. i don’t remember what happens the rest of the night.
i wake up late and my toenails are dirty. my puma shoes have a hole which is primarily why i wear them. finally i leave to meet a friend nearby for the greg laswell show. never heard of him. she is surprised. i know just enough about fringe musicians to make people think i have overtly eclectic indie taste. corduroy shorts and a plaid clasp button shirt with non-traditional color further disguises my fondness for avril lavigne. greg laswell has soothing vocals with a slight throaty edge. in between songs he provides lyrical insight. this helps because his singing voice lulls me into a trance that removes the spacebetweenwords. he sings the chorus of one song backwards. when he removes his aviators i realize he looks just like ryan gosling. my friend agrees. her foot nudges a rock into the hole in my shoe. it’s smooth. i eat a taco and bike over to a party with free soco and beer. i take both. a girl with fair skin and pink shoulders stares in my direction but never smiles so i don’t approach her. i approach the open bar. metric is playing later. they are my favorite band and emily haines is the most perfect female vocalist in the world. the last security guard at stubbs stops me before i make it to the stage. i leave. it’s getting dark and that makes me want to drink more. i meet some friends and go to a bar i don’t like that’s far away. i take shots with a fake pirate. biking to the next bar makes me yawn. i order a double red bull vodka and sip my eyes open. everything wears off after i bike a few miles up to campus. there’s a late night show at the co-op but i’m too drunk. i’m coasting home downhill when i hop a curb to avoid some pedestrians and hit a different curb. they laugh while i quickly get off the ground and speed off in the wrong direction. i sleep well.
i wake even later today. the last thing i remember is everything but i choose to forget. the window is cracked and my pillow is freezing. both sides. i eat a grapefruit, or maybe a clementine. my face is sticky. i try to write. it works. there are no shows i want to see until later so i go with a friend to look at oversized horses near a brewery. “today is the last day before they go home.” i dress in a thermal shirt, fingerless gloves, dark jeans, knitted hat and zippered jacket. my friend wears a cowboy hat. it blows off. and again. the horses are big. i take a picture and they show up normal size. costco is too busy. i want to leave until i meet a short haired girl in line for a sample of pirate puffs organic corn puffs. “let me go find my boyfriend, he is going to love these,” she says. i follow her with my eyes as we look for her boyfriend. we find him. even though she is not gorgeous, she could do better. he is a total bore, boring neat hair, cheap parachute vest and detached expression. she smiles and offers the pirate puffs and he never looks in her direction. he barely moves his mouth to chew. they are slightly stale. the checkout girl is blonde but she has long curly hair. oh well. the sun sets as i walk west along the lake. i don’t have to cross the bridge for this show. a three piece folk band is playing and the small female band member is slapping a large bass guitar. i think of paul rudd. some guy stomps a beer can in the mud and gets dirt on my canvas shoes. thank you. i think of zooey and knife closer to stage. finally she comes out holding a red felt hat over her ears. she mentions the cold. oh well. her voice is not a refined as most female vocalists i like but it conveys sincerity. something i value in performance. m ward takes center with a well planned electric guitar solo before zooey bounces back to the chorus. her eyes look especially icy tonight. they never blink. towards the end she and him trade harmonious keyboard riffs and after an encore the music stops. i go downtown.
from bed i listen to voices in the other room. when i come out nobody is there. i look through my breath off the balcony and there is nothing to hear. room temperature water tastes like angel sweat and i’m drinking so fast my head tilts straight up. some drips down my neck. the water is gone but my eyes remain on blue. for awhile. a friend wakes up and we go for tacos and thrift stores. i eat a bison and vegetables. the sun is warming. the sun is always warming, that’s why i like the sun. we go to a thrift store on south congress and go upstairs to look at kitchen utensils. the pans are scratched and the glasses foggy. val kilmer is downstairs. he looks cool. he’s wearing a fedora over long blonde hair and ray-ban sunglasses. he calls his son jack over to meet a girl. i watch him pick through vintage suits and then i leave. a live band with heavy drums is playing across the street at joe’s but i’m not interested. the goodwill store is boring. half-priced books is better. i buy a book with minimalist cover art. later i meet a friend at south lamar drafthouse to see the runaways. she is late. i try to forget about missing the previews and recline in my front row seat. the film features a lot of closeup cinematography. kristen stewart is hard to watch for the first minute and then she is good. i’m not sure about dakota fanning. she is sexual but not really sexy. maybe a few times. she is good. the movie is about an all girl rock band that stays together long enough to change rock music. dakota’s vocals are raw and weak but they convey a girl starved. and deprived. and desperate to indulge. she does. after the credits i go to my friend’s car and we talk about music and restaurants. i aggressively enunciate the “roof” in “roof” top and it comes out as a bark. after she stops laughing we kiss goodnight. i go to the grocery store for spring rolls. they don’t have any. i buy milk and thank the cashier. he ignores me. he is deaf. the week is over.
i’m working late friday and everything i backwards is read. that’s enough; i go home. at the apartment gym I work abs. at the liquor store i buy a bottle of gin, sprite, tonic water (not diet), a lime and one four loko. they lock the doors behind me. i get on my bike and someone honks, a pizza boy, probably brooks. four loco tastes like lighter fluid; i share it with my roommates. we take shots of gin. my shot glass has a tiny moose at the bottom; it tastes the same. they leave for work. downtown. i get up and change the music to something more upbeat and two ballerinas come in. they change the music. their playlist alternates between radiohead and lil wayne. i make us gin and sprites with a splash of grenadine. we sip. there are 10 or 15 dead ants in my drink. ants like grenadine. there are 20 or 30 dead ants in the grenadine bottle. “these drinks are really good,” they say. three or four more ballerinas come in and we play beer pong. nobody wins. i have another gin and sprite sans grenadine. the gin bottle is half empty. my roommates come home. i get soaked in beer from shotguns and unorthodox karate kicks. a lamp is busted, the living room table is missing a leg, the kitchen floor is flooded. the gin bottle is empty. the ballerinas leave. we take our clothes off and go to the hot tub. it’s dark and a cat is draped across my shoulders. sitting in the hot tub with my head tilted back on the concrete i pee and feel the sun’s warmth on my closed eyes.
i wake at 5pm…
the next day,
i wake at 5pm. barely. my left foot is sore, there are small slits on most of my fingers and my piss is bright orange. it bubbles like soda. i want a smoothie from mcdonalds. my phone rings, “i have an extra ticket to the roller derby.” for some reason i agree, “okay, pick me up at mcdonalds on riverside.” it’s hot out; i leave my shirt on and walk slow. my thumb points at a passing car. and again. no brake lights. i’m sweating in mcdonalds–a blanket of sweat. i order two large smoothies and a powerade to drink while i wait. most of the powerade ends up on my chin, then my shirt, some in my mouth. hardly noticeable. “you look like shit,” my friend says. i drink my smoothies, alternating between each…
the roller derby is hot and crowded. beer and nachos walk by. i may vomit. each rollergirl is introduced, one at a time. i don’t see ellen page anywhere. they skate one lap and do a signature slide into the middle. one trips, one has huge thighs, one slides backwards, one sideways–not really that many ways to slide. truckstop trixie is by far my favorite. she has short dark hair, straight bangs, red lips and aqua fishnet tights. her shirt is tied above her stomach. the announcer says she had a baby three months ago. oh well. my only other favorite is a mohawk with a plaid shirt. their are a lot of gay women here; makes senses i guess. pretzels and hot dogs walk by. they almost look good. i look at my cell phone–it’s dead. truckstop trixie gets four points, the red team is winning, the match stops and starts, there’s a pillow fight, a real fight and the red team is winning. we leave at halftime. goodbye trixie.
i order vegetarian lasagna at a french bistro with white table cloths. i’m starving but my throat is too raw for bread, too raw for salad and too raw for baked cheese. the iced tea is fine. i eat half.
outside my apartment i realize i don’t have keys. nobody answers and there is no light coming from under the door seal. i check my phone–it’s dead. my roommates work downtown. they get off work when bars close. i go to the pool and wait. i’m sitting alone on a pool chair watching this drunk girl with an annoying southern accent, “i’m going to lawl school in the fawl,” kiss a guy she just met. now she’s topless. i lay back in my lounge chair when a drunk black guy wanders over and pulls his chair against mine. touching. he’s sipping from a tiny plastic shot glass. baby sips. he whispers to me about an inch from my face, i smell the vodka, “yah man, im, i jus takin, the seens, whads, whats, shhh, you see.” i speak to him in english at a normal volume, “how’s it goin man?” he whispers back, “i you see i’s, i’s in nature, i’s one sixteenth native american, yaknow indian.” i can’t make out the name of his tribe. to earn credibility he details his recent encounters with nature: the bald eagle perched outside his apartment window makes the loudest motherfucking sound you’ve ever heard, “GAAAAAAHHHHH, GAAAAHHHH,” he’s not whispering, in west texas he sees a chupacabra that looks like a large chihuahua–about three times the size of a chihuahua but he’s not sure if it’s big enough to eat goats, “goats mean as hell,” and a UFO, “or it may been a satellite.” he sells acid; he’s a damn good salesman. we talk about drugs for awhile. to change the subject i ask him about the people that got stabbed recently at the neighboring pool because he just moved from there. he doesn’t say anything at first. “you hear about that,” i say? “that was me,” he says. “oh shit, you got stabbed?” “no, i stabbed those motherfuckers.” i’m scarred. i want to go home. this is home.
wake too early; it is monday. too late for the gym. an old porch guy waves as i bike through the east side. it’s all downhill from 6th and congress–literally down hill. this long stretch of decline makes me nervous. that truck pulls right out in front of me, that bus stops for no reason, that light turns red and i can’t stop. run it, just pedal. get to work…and work’s over…
on the ride home i pass a girl with neck-length red hair walking to whole foods. it’s on fire–metaphorically burning her down. the pleasant valley bridge makes me nervous but i avoid the sidewalk–too narrow. a car honks from a few feet behind so i turn up my headphones. “let’s not spill the truth, it’s easier being alone” the song says. i think it’s about an abusive relationship–aren’t they all.
“wanna go to a show tonight,” my roommate says? “who? nevermind, sure.” i buy tickets for the miniature tigers at stubb’s but that show’s not until next tuesday. tickets for tonight’s show, cults, are sold out. “we can just get em at the door.” we get them at the door. it’ll be an hour or more before the show starts so we leave and go to a bar. at spill i order double gin and tonic, two or three times. back at emo’s the first band starts. the globes–no thanks. i go outside and drink two beers in the alley leaning on a dumpster. cults come out and their lead singer has healthy back-length dark hair. her voice is unrefined and scattered and lovely. so is her face. their music is upbeat with a cheerful drone. i fall in a trance to contentment. i don’t hear that many of the lyrics but a few speak, “i really want to go outside and stop to see your day . . . you really wanna stay inside and sleep the light away.” these lyrics are silly but madeline pulls them off, mostly. “hi, i’m drew. you have a lovely voice” i say to her after the show. “you look just like my cousin tevin,” she says.
“i get that all the time.”
this style of dance is inspired by sharks below. my feet glide and dart, they oscillate as fins, my torso shimmies in stream, my arms stay en side and i can sleep while moving . . . 6am: i get in bed and fall away before shutting my eyes. the blinds stay open. 11am: sun reaches my toes and-they-pointe, 11:15: sun pieces my lungs and-i-breathe, 11:30: sun slits my eyes and-i-see. and now–and now-i-wake…
my breakfast smoothie has fresh blueberries, ripe strawberries, banana and ice that cools my throat and warms everything else. at whole foods we choose scallops, london broil, sausage with cherries and one whole pineapple. in the pool i sit under an artificial waterfall and let the flow of monotony drown all noise and suffocate all regret–momentarily. time reverses with a splash; the splash, caused by a little girl celebrating her 8th birthday. she sits beside and i tell her, “you look just like dakota fanning.” “everyone says that,” she says!
i cut slices of warm pineapple from the grill. they disappear. i eat strips of rare steak and drink vodka with red berry. my body is tingling; it likes the constant pressure of water, without it, i feel it may melt away. through the distortion of water falling i watch a tan thin girl appear in the pool. her features are revealed in waves: a frequency of short dark hair with swept jagged bangs, a current of spine arched back and crescent stomach, a spectrum of smile spread from coy to ravishing and an amplification of eyes that wide. we see and we look up. the sun dries water on my eyes and i come out from behind the curtain. she’s gone, she’s in a chair, she’s on land, she’s gone. dakota swims by under water.
plenty of seats are available so we sit center-center. a short french film featuring long-legged ballet dancers plays in black & white. they jeté off rooftops and glissade around trees. they waltz on water and dive in nude. the man on a flimsy bicycle chases them to return a shoe. i like it more than cinderella. the kids are alright starts and i want to be mark ruffalo. i laugh when i’m supposed, i’m frustrated when the characters demand it, i have nothing better to say than what they say and towards the end i really want to cry but i don’t. i leave feeling both intimidated and inspired. i don’t want to leave.
my birthday, a saturday
i’m sleeping over covers with my window open to traffic, rain and wind that wraps my body in a cool sheet. i suck breeze through my nose and blow air out my lips–each breath a conscious decision.
there’s a birthday note on the couch; it’s sweet and funny and makes me feel good. there’s a new copy of 500 days of summer in the dvd player; it’s sweet and sad and makes me like love. i feel compelled to write but i don’t. instead, i bike downtown. east 6th street is bumpy and i bounce over railroad tracks with no train. dark bars, old houses and fenced-in shops line the street. the buildings are old stone cracking but not broken enough to see. fire trucks, ambulances and sirens drive by; loud repetitive sound makes me pedal faster. my bike slows downhill and i feel every hole in the street, i feel pebble, i feel smooth; my front tire is flat. on the way to mellow johnny’s a photographer named richard stops to take our picture. i look slightly off camera. “great, thanks!” my bike’s fixed so i ride home…
for dinner we have boneless ribs marinating. there is nobody around with pool closed, the volleyball courts empty and the parking lot still. i faintly hear music in the distance, top 40s hip/hop i presume. after flipping the ribs we take our swimsuits off. the first piece is bloody and tender–it tastes real. red juice drips down my neck and arms meeting on the chest. i chew fat dipped in vodka. a piece falls from my mouth and lands between my legs; i consider eating it. the pool is only closed in principle so we swim nude. the water is cloudy, the hot tub is green and the office is open.
we mix vodka/sprites and follow the drone of music. a two lane inflatable slip-and-slide blocks the path. i dive head first and glide down the path. splash. repeat. the pool is full–out of 200 people, 60 are girls and zero are gorgeous. one girl has short stylishly cropped blonde hair but she is older and far too fit. a drunk guy with white sun glasses tries to give her a drink from his bottle of whiskey. she refuses, we don’t. among other reasons, the deejay is bad so we go home.
i watch badlands on dvd. it stars a young martin sheen and a younger girl–the girl from carrie. he shoots people sometimes, including her dad. before he takes her virginity they sit by the river and she says, “this is nice.” he says, “the tree makes it nice.” eventually she leaves him and he’s ready to give up. he’s lonely but there’s no fixing that. i’m lonely and i think about going downtown. i stay in.
i wake up to weedwhackers buzzing outside the window (what an odd word); i don’t mind at all. nobody else is awake so i drink espresso and write about music. today is the first day of ACL and we’re going. i tighten bolts on my bike and pick out snug shorts with a purple plaid snap-up shirt. we stop at HEB and i purchase two waters and one four loco. i hide the four loco under a composition notebook at the bottom of my backpack. maybe i’ll take notes during a show…
my bike keeps up with traffic after the big hill on riverside. i get scared at this speed yet i keep pedaling faster–that’s how momentum works. momentum is taking me to ACL–she’s a breeze. by congress, traffic is stopped; but not me. i sail through the intersection and down the middle of the road passing cars as if they’re parked. they really should park and walk from here. by barton springs & lamar waves of people are walking but there’s still enough cars and pedicabs to make it fun. ny messenger inspired riding ensues: brush against a side view, rub shoulders with grandma, separate happy couple with arms a finish line and skid to avoid a baby dressed hipster. there are the gates.
the grass is green and there’s open space. it’s early. music to the right, stages to the left, shade in the middle for now. i sit under a tree and drink water. ah. i circle around passing each stage and stop back at the same tree. the mountain goats sound good–never heard of ’em. i drink most of my four loco in the blue port-o-potty–hot+stuffy–and pour the remainder into a cup-of-ice. girls go on in 30 so i go get close. 2nd-row center. the lead singer’s new haircut makes him look like ryan gosling and his vocals are too quiet. i hear gosling has a band about skeletons or something. girls are trying hard and they look good but their sound is flat. the drums are hollow, the vocals are weak, the piano’s player looks high and some tool in the crowd with a river phoenix shirt and punky 90s haircut won’t stop yelling. lust for life sounds good but not great. i hope beach house is better.
the river phoenix guy is yelling into his cell phone before beach house’s stage. i don’t mind. i sit patiently until a girl introduces herself. we talk about music, obviously; we discuss school, predictably; we don’t mention movies, somehow–she’s nice. Her good taste in music is complimented by a baggy button-up and jagged pieces of hair cropped over the collar. she switches places with her brother so we can stand beside each other during the show. beach house takes stage and they look exactly like i imagined–dreamy. the lead singer wears flowing hair that hides dark eyes. her voice is energy, it shocks and brings to life; it chokes and suffocates me alive. tingling guitar melodies trigger each breath. victoria waves her arms in my direction. i brush arms with amanda but don’t look at her–i know she’s there. this song fades to next and stars twinkle stage back. zebra swells from the ground and bounces around the mind. when victoria rubs her fingers together i feel her rough skin. it’s over. “see you at the strokes,” i say to amanda.
i take a nap in front of the cheeseburger stand and dream about the tallest field of grass ever. it’s so high it’s not a field, it’s a sea. i swim as far as i can before blades of grass turn to legs of flesh. heads bob at the surface. it’s dark and the strokes are late. i think about getting closer but the stage is too far to swim. lights of rock wave the crowd; vocals of julian stir the waters. a girl ahead of me is exorcisming. she loves the music. i like it. reptilia plays to an melody of pack-man and pong. the display means nothing; placeholders for retro. they play take it or leave it and i leave–everyone does. that’s all.
Life’s not linear, it’s circular–try and follow…
i’m about to jump. the security guard follows a drunk girl into the distance and nobody’s left around. i grab the top of the fence and lift just enough to feel it flex. it’ll hold. my heart shakes, my hands race. i let go–can’t do it. up the hill there’s a different security guard staring right down the line.
on the way to set we hear a version of zombie that never ends. she’s wearing yesterday’s wardrobe and my hand’s seatbelt. her ice blue eyes take the sun and start to melt. when we look close they freeze together–i’ll always see her…
there’s one hour until best coast goes on and we’re still outside. the least guarded area is behind the trees. two kids are in handcuffs. “they just jumped,” a couple on the outside tells us. maybe there’s another way.
a clock strikes midnight and i leave for the bar listening to the xx. heart skipped a beat when she calls. we don’t listen together but it’s our soundtrack. one of them. i know she hears it too.
“sure,” a couple leaving the show offers their wristbands. careful not to tear, we remove them from one and place on another, on each other. threads are loose, adhesive is tired but they’re on–it needs to work–best coast will be on soon. the bag checker confiscates an energy drink from my bag, the wristband scanner lets go of my arm and wishes me a “fun” time. clever.
at the bar people are wearing gloves and pea coats. they must be cold. i look around inside, outside, back in–don’t see her but i know i will. i order a beer and walk out towards a girl facing away with dark hair and a fur coat. she must be smiling because one rose cheek is visible. i touch between her shoulders and when she turns all i see is blue eyes, red lips and my heart. beating.
bethany is honest. i listen to the whole 25 minute album on my ride to work and now we know each other. i’m her confidant, her partner, her ex-lover, the object of her lyrical affection. we get each other.
“relax,” she tells me. i’m totally relaxed and tensed at the same time. it’s so easy to be with her but sometimes i’m not. we kiss.
best coast finishes with an easy reminder, “we could be so very happy, each and every day, each and every day.” i know, i know.
i sprint half a mile to catch the bus and arrive winded and nauseous. the driver goes fast to make up time; i’m bouncing from my seat. a fat boy gets off on riverside, runs in front of the bus, almost gets hit by a car, jogs through traffic and jumps in front of a different bus that stops long enough for him to move out of the way before leaving. it’s okay–he’ll catch the next one.
we drink beer, amp and whiskey in the alley behind paramount theater. i’m not nauseous. the tim and eric show is uncomfortable and funny and not funny. they think most people are ignoramuses and of course they’re right. their humor is not for the smart or for the dumb, it’s for the confused, it’s for me–most of it.
we go to bars and take shots and beers and long island iced teas. i meet a guy named goat and a girl named amanda. a drunk girl approaches amanda, grabs her drink, then pours it on the dance floor. goat laughs. they’re about to fight; i leave for next bar.
at emos i watch a band with two female vocalists i’m not attracted to, a talented female drummer who is attractive and two male guitarists with zero personality. one keeps his eyes closed the entire time. he’s sensitive. we leave so we can take shots at spill before they close.
when she rolls down the window all i can do is smile, say “hi” and kiss her red lips. it’s late. in bed i kiss more aggressively, purposefully–the purpose–to make her feel me, to make her feel us. she stops me to say, “just kiss like it’s me.” and i know exactly what she means. i’m kissing her like i would kiss a stranger that needs convincing–that needs prefab passion. the more intimate i try to make it, the less intimate it is.
i should know by now i’ll see her again. always even. every encounter doesn’t need to be marred by the desperation to infuse feeling. it’ll be there–it’s there. what makes us special is continuity. nothing diminishes, distances or fades because there will always be a next time. and knowing that feels good.
the sushi at maiko looks fresh under dim light and each sip of warm sake improves my grip on the chopsticks. there are some women in the corner cackling like hyenas and talking like business barbies–if barbies could talk. hard to ignore. an older woman at the bar sips white wine, eats spicy tuna with roe (i think) and reads an electronic book under a small booklamp. i would do anything, except ask, to find out what’s she’s reading. during my last sip of sake a girl in a sweeping red peacoat glides up. dark hair draped over red wool is all it takes to recognize. her. we hug, she sits, we talk, she goes to join her sister across the restaurant. a coincidence, if ever there was. on the way out i tell her, “we’re going to see sharon van etten at mowhawk, you should meet us.” i don’t think she will.
we buy four loko from the corner store cashier with more black than yellow in his mouth and a homeless persons warns of it’s potency. “i’m a street drunk,” he’s says “and that shit fucks me up.” yeah, i know. we grab our tickets from mohawk–which is relatively empty–and go across the street to a dark parking lot. i’m drinking blueberry-flavored poison while watching someone work late in a clear office building. janitors don’t wear suits and neither do i.
i order a beer and wait stage front for sharon. her red guitar glows quietly under neon light, her microphone stands patiently ready to quiver under her voice and i watch intently for the first sign of her head or toe. we immediately make eye contact when she steps on stage. she’s close enough i could reach out and touch her leg if i wanted to. i want to. her eyes are hidden by bangs but when she looks down i see she’s happy. immediately her voice cuts off my ears and floods inside my head. her feelings hijack my brain and i’m under their control. my lungs breath endearment, my hands grasp for devotion, my eyes follow her every move. and a look returned offers her for the taking. if i only had more to give, i might.
after the show we give her a handwritten note and she writes this in response:
“i would be a terrible girlfriend, i’d be a better friend.”
somehow it’s not rejection, it’s acknowledgment. it’s close. she shows me how possible it is to take true love’s fleeting feeling and extend it for a night–maybe longer. maybe my whole life. maybe with the right person.
the rest of the night is a blur of falling action. shots here, drinks there, dancing with, talking to, staring at–who cares? she never meets up with me but i mind it less tonight than i might have yesterday.
i sip hot apple cider with whiskey and cinnamon. the smell alone is intoxicating. chance and i sit indian style speaking into microphones about our personal comfort levels with public nudity. “high in the company of men and slightly less so around women.”our voices are recorded for future playback but tonight’s conversation hardly warrants another spin.
a feeling of calm falls over me when we pass the exit for sixth street and continue driving. dismal lights o’ downtown are replaced by flashing bulbs, warm weather icicles and inflatable snow creatures. our car parks. people are smoking in the yard and drinking in the house. maybe both. a greenscreen hangs on the living room wall and some guy with military hair is pretending to punch his sister in the cheek. i wonder what zany background will be added in post? back outside, the victim of fake cinematic assault introduces herself. “hi, i’m _____.” she is different than most girls at the party; hair is washed, earrings are gold and her voice is inflected. she shows me a wide range of emotions–at least 5 of 7 dwarves. her brother interrupts before she can sneeze. we don’t talk much after that. i look for her on the way upstairs but she’s not in the way.
the place is made of wood and every room exists on multiple levels–a grown boy’s tree house. stairs are narrow and only slightly more sound than rope. the top floor bathroom branches from the rest; it’s a whole ‘nother tree. the jacuzzi tub comfortably sits three and drops of vodka spill harmlessly down the drain. when i journey to the toilet i’m in a different forest–far enough away that my shy bladder immediately initiates conversation with the porcelain. i drink more vodka and watch an alligator crawl from bench to tub in desperate need of water. none yet.
i don’t bother to look for her on the way out; she’s not on this way. chance offers me a swig of beer and i indulge for three seconds before the brain realizes it’s vodka. i spit out some and swallow enough. ah. at magnolia cafe we eat cheese and i order a taco. water is so cold and bottomless. my friend arrives in a cab and i lose interest in the meal. i’m sleepy. In the morning a ladybug lands on pillow and i say goodbye.
an austin sun fades to streetlights glowing orange in chicago. even falling snow looks warm under this light. it’s not–not much is warm once we leave the airport. the cab driver suggests joe’s bar and pink monkey strip club OR taking the east train downtown. the empty train platform is just below street level and snow collects on this side the tracks while we wait. i close my eyes and breath deep up the nose, inhaling flakes of fresh powder only to have them melt on my brain. effects are similar to another white powder–eyes fly open and my mind jolts to life–i actually feel neurons firing; someone’s pricking my frontal lobe. immediately, i start rambling about a girl from the plane: “you wouldn’t believe her hair, how could she get it that curly, it’s like thousands of brunette pig tails, not hair pig tails, actuals tails of pig were stretched out and then curled again and then i don’t…”
we take east train to jackson. everyone looks so tired–hardly alive. we get off at jackson and embrace the cold with folded arms. tall buildings are dark and moody. do not disturb, their body language reads. nobody is outside and and nothing is open except mcdonalds. we’re walking circles round an empty city looking for any signs of life. a well-lit hotel lobby provides temporary relief from the cold. sear’s tower is the only landmark i know of, so we head in that direction. it’s been renamed ‘willis tower’; i crack a bad joke that it must have been purchased by bruce.
after enough wrong turns, we’re looking straight up to the top of the largest building i’ve ever seen. i can’t tell if the top is that pointy or my squinted eyes just see it that way. regardless, it must be freezing up there. we take pictures and approach revolving doors even through the lobby’s dark. doors are locked of course. we start getting hungry after we pass about the tenth closed pizza shop. “best deep dish in chicago,” they claim. up ahead, a flashing neon beckons “beer”. the word, “open” may have been equally enticing. the lone bartender at cactus, a sports bar with mirrors, informs us that a one-topping pizza can be ready in 12 minutes. “sounds great.”
i order double gin ‘n tonic for warmth purposes only. i win two games of pinball and when we switch to electronic bowling, our pizza is delivered simultaneously with my 3rd dose of liquid warmth. i’m sufficiently warmed at this point, my jacket’s not even on. now, i wouldn’t exactly call this “deep dish” pizza–which they never did. the crust is about as thick as pepperoni and gaps in cheese are filled by abundant red pepper. i take a large gulp of gin and the first bit burns my gums. delicious. we eat every piece, i bowl a 200 while stockpiling my stomach with gin for the walk back.
the train is empty except for one couple cuddled close. we take a shuttle back to the hotel and sleep for four hours. i get out of bed without delay even though it’s dark. i’m going to london today…
i take the underground towards buckingham palace. a girl sleeping beneath her hood reminds me to take out my phone. few strands of white-blond hair leak around the corners of her mouth. the phone is already recording–a 35 minute film capturing the darkness inside my pocket. shallow abyss, it’s titled. filming has sufficiently discharged the battery, which annoys me…
palace guards are so far away i hardly bother looking. it’s certainly not like in some movies where people stand by making faces and testing their steadfastness. they could be stuffed of straw for all i can tell. there is a fountain overflowing with picture-takers; not among them is i. a cobble-stone path lined of large-trunked trees leads us to lesser palace entrances protected by lesser aged guards. at one entrance, two baby-faced soldiers march to and fro stomping their feet in temper tandem and shouldering toy guns no doubt for future use. i’ll pinch their rosy cheeks.
despite blustery conditions, a large ferris wheel sits dormant across the river. i bet they don’t call it a ‘ferris’ wheel here. i merge into some crowd gathered round a break dancing group. the moonwalking robot gives way to a ninja turtle that completes 72 revolutions on his head–to best of my count. i would ride the big wheel but a sign reads: London Eye closed for maintenance until January 22nd. darn.
more i walk the city streets, more i’m filled with wonderment. every needle-point roof is supported by alternating brick and carved stone, every soul looks worthy my interest and cheerful raucous is spilling from every pub, tavern and coffee house. is all of london so alive? when everything is this old, it must come back to life.
doors open at each tube stop and an english woman’s voice warns me to, “mind the gap,” in a lovely accent. i most certainly will. more people squeeze on and at least three strangers brush against the crotch of my pants. this doesn’t particularly excite me, but it seems worth noting. i get off at london heathrow terminal 4 and take the next jet airways flight to mumbai…
flight time to mumbai, india, is 9.5 hours. i find my seat: back cabin-front row-middle section-aisle. this spot suits me because passengers at the front of each cabin get a few extra feet of leg room. but there is one drawback–front row seats are reserved for mothers avec infant (and a-parently moi)…
6 baby indians make googly eyes in my direction between fits of malcontent. engines sufficiently drown their cries upon takeoff and now i’m able to read my ironically titled book, the normals, in relative thunderous peace. the breast-feeding session to my immediate right is interrupted when flight attendants hook hanging baby baskets directly into the wall i’m facing. a satisfied baby girl is put down just above my lap. she’s cute and she’s quiet. i contemplate the idea of breast feeding–no, i’m not thinking about performing it, but the general idea of it…the concept that one life is solely sustained by another, their maker. it’s miraculous.
reading makes me sleepy, so i write some notes in a journal about london. sometimes it’s difficult to articulate a feeling, so i simply record events. it’s dark outside and time has little meaning anymore. i survey the plane and passengers not shut-eyed are watching movies on monitors fitted into the next row’s headrest. i don’t have a next row or a monitor but I do have a ticket for the next showing of, baby rolls over at some point.
someone informs me that alcoholic drinks are free on international flights. they sure are. i take juice and vodka–half/half. a mother to my left stops a flight attendant to complain about our apparent lack of movie screens. the attendant bends down and calmly swings and swivels a screen into place from below the arm rest. in an obvious attempt to conceal making the same embarrassing oversight, i patiently wait one minute before fumbling below my seat.
never let me go, a film i’m dying to see, staring carey mulligan and kiera knightly is available courtesy jet airways in-flight entertainment. it’s not even out on dvd yet! for a moment, i actually consider watching wall-street 2 (also featuring carey mulligan) for fear that never let me go may move too slow for eyes not rested in 20+ hours. it doesn’t. it’s absolutely gripping.
my eyes open wider, misguided somehow thinking i can swallow ms. mulligan’s character with a stare. she’s kind and helpless and so naturally beautiful. so painfully aware. the sadness in her gaze stems from a life of quiet restraint. withdrawn. and where exactly did that get her? where exactly has that gotten me? all composure is rapidly evacuating my body to make room for grief. and that’s when a former teacher tells her…
“we didn’t use the gallery to read you souls, we used it, to see if you had souls at all.”
it’s all gone. and i don’t want it. tingling rises from a quivering ankle to a hollow kneecap to an empty stomach. my entire body is agape with welling. by the time my face tightens, a conflicted smile rises to greet the first drops of soul. i try and swallow these tears only to see them leak right back out. i wish more people were awake to witness and i wish that wish were true.
once it stops, i feel less empty and more clean–more soundly to_get_her. i put on wall-street 2 and fall asleep.
i’m jolted awake when landing gear grinds on earth. this must be mumbai…
at 6pm i leave riverside and bike downtown. anticipation paces my heart and props the pedals. increased circulation keeps warm my extremities. i’m seeing best coast in a few hours; her music is catchy and upbeat–exactly what my life needs right now. BoncE…
don’t have tickets but i heard there’d be some at the door. “come early…” a website says. bike’s parked on red river and emo’s two hours before doors open and nobody’s here. early enough?
at 7pm a few fans arrive and i’m part of a genuine ‘line’. they bought tickets in advance–good for them. i take pictures with bobb the bassist and ali the drummer, which is cool but, no sign of bethany. i’ll see her inside.
at 8pm an emo’s employee asks the growing line if everyone has tickets; it seems everyone does, but us–good for us i guess. except then he claims the show is sold-out and no tickets are available. but that’s not what i heard…
“your twitter said ‘come early for tickets at the door’. we’re early”
“that was a mistake, we’re completely sold-out.”
completely redundant–as if you can be partially sold-out, asshole.
for some reason we stay in line. i message the drummer on twitter and she replies, “i’ll see what i can do…” but by 9, the queue’s around the block, the doors are opening and we are forced to step shamefully out of place. “sorry, there’s nothing i can do,” we’re told from everyone at once.
suddenly my fantasy of warmth is shattered by cool reality: we’re not getting in. we hide-out in an empty bar called aquarium where cardboard fish swim in empty tanks and potted plants grow from dirty holes in the floor. a place like this makes even dollar beers seem overpriced so we walk to the nearest gas station. it’s freezing outside.
i buy a malt beverage containing 12% alcohol and an undisclosed concentration of wormwood oil (the active ingredient in absinthe). i imagine a hallucination. to drink we choose a quiet hill across from mohawk. my ‘axis’ tastes of artificial fructose and certain regret. it does however, re-heat my legs and de-still my heart.
we walk by our bikes for one last pass at emo’s. from a guarded but open side door, i’m able to glimpse backstage. wavves is playing soft-punk while some girl nods along off stage. she turns for a beer and muddy-brown hair over clay cheekbones immediately identifies her as bethany consentino, the lead of best coast. anyway, her boyfriend’s in the band.
i close my eyes and rotate the scene 180 degrees around bethany’s center: i’m on stage, wavves is playing the sidewalk and she’s about to gaze at me. but before we make eye contact, the axis shifts back around and i’m handing the door guy twenty dollars. and we’re in.
i get a beer and squeeze towards the stage. people love it when you come late and push by them on your way up front. i feel self-conscious about my height (at least i’m thin)–the key’s to keep moving. “my friends are up there,” occassionally helps.
the crowd is totally stoked on wavves. they play relaxed music hard and i go with the flow: get in front of some moshing fans to get pulled to and from the stage by a crowd’s natural tide; avoid getting under toes and try not to spill beer; chug what’s little’s left; repeat. they play green eyes and say goodnight. i think about peeing but nobody moves from their spot. the sea’s dead.
“it’s past my bedtime,” bethany says, wining like an angel. her songs all reference a relationship that took place in her teens. she’s must be over it but does a good job feigning hurt. the lead singer of wavves takes her spot stage back. i wonder if he gets tired of her lyrics, i wonder if her ex-boyfriend takes pride or heartbreak in her music. either way, she’s ahead. i stare into her mic and pretend she’s yelling in my ear. she’s so close her breath boils my skin and her words brand my flesh: “i miss you, i miss you, i m—i–s you.” fine, i give in. “i miss you too.”
we leave at “goodnight” and stop behind the nearest building to piss. though the euphoria a flashlight strobes urine pooling at my feet. “zipper’s up,” the cop says. we take off and rejoin the mass exodus from emo’s. our bikes are locked ahead and the bands are leaving this city.
south by southwest, a wednesday,
from outer space the line for fader fort probably looks like a thriving pool of bacteria teaming with life that can only survive by swimming feverishly towards its next host…
but in person, the crowd appears a stagnant pool of lifeless drones content on standing still in hopes of leeching off the same free beer and indie music available at every other party downtown. i decide not to wait.
i eat salty pretzels and drink stale shiner at IFC house. go outside. everyone on 6th street is an amateur videographer: he has a $5000 sony hvr, she has a $8000 canon xl, he has a $3000 panasonic ag-hpx. i can’t wait to see all their ‘walking through crowd’ footage on youtube. sorry, i suppose i’m bitter to be filming with a $200 iphone 4.
emo’s is giving away rum and sparks stripped of caffeine. the bartender fills an entire cup of sailor jerry’s and splashes with coke. each sip induces stomach churning and head sloshing; if i drank on beat, maybe it would resemble dancing. in the background, a hip-hop artist dedicates his next song to the newly deceased nate ‘d-o-double-g.’ i don’t really care; pour the rest of my drink out (into my mouth) for my fallen homie.
the line at beauty bar is cleverly hidden inside. the pains of being pure at heart go on in 45 minutes and we’re hardly moving. i meet a girl with good taste in music carrying her comprehensive show schedule for the week. let’s compare notes. personalized sxsw schedules range from band names scribbled on crinkled notebook paper to color-coded show list bibles taking months to compile.
10 minutes before show-time i’m in and standing straight up front. the lead singer’s pupils are the size of trench coat buttons and he forgets to blink. their music reminds me of how i would like to remember feeling as a teenager. it’s upbeat, romantic, immature, angsty and nothing like my actual tragically anti-climactic teenage being. i recognize one or two songs enough to premeditate how i should sway my torso.
the girl from line invites us to an entrepreneur’s party at fogo de chao with free cocktails and possible food service. starving. i start with a traditional brazilian passion fruit cocktail containing enough sugar to mask any taste of rum; empty glasses stained by fake fruit spill over table’s edge.
trays of petite filet wrapped in bacon circulate the rooftop–each bite containing rare steak, juicy fat and salty bacon paired with another round of sweet passion fruit. dinner is served, south by southwest is underway and where to next…
across the swamp, over the marsh, past the gators, through the traffic, to the suburbs i go. after one dry martini, two cold beers and a bowl of jambalaya, a car honks outside: ride’s here. we pass a silver spaceship, super-domed and polished, on the way downtown.
puffs of calm haze obscure my view while i look for their entrance/exit. when will they go home? when will i? maybe if we knew where home was, we’d already be there.
a fading swastika in the ninth ward tells adam to turn left and park. there’s no golf course here at the country club but there is a pool. yearly memberships are three hundred dollars while guest visits are eight, but i dismiss each by brushing outside, avoiding eye contact, removing my pants and knifing direct into salty water where bare bodies glow underneath amidst rotating colors of pool light: his bottom is blue, her breasts are red, his cock is green, her pussy is purple and i’m awash with yellow. but not scared. i chase down rum & coke with shots of tequila and watch my friend politely refuse a hand-job from some guy in the hot tub. “just close your eyes and pretend,” he says. a pitbull remix spins so it’s time to go.
one foggy car ride later we’re entering the dragon’s den with drinks in hand and powder in pocket; i’m dancing through the door; i’m bouncing off the walls; i’m climbing up the stairs, while house music resounds on hollow ears. acoustics are better with my brain turned down: reverb<—>reverb. “what?—sure—i’ll…” have a drink downstairs, in the garden, on the street, take more bumps, talk to her, lean on him, light a bowl, take a seat, eat a cheese fry. “sure.”
i lie in bed looking up on another bed—bunked. spinning. helicopter, high. where am i? saturn rings a bell. wonder what this city looks like in daylight…
the next day,
lights, obscura, action: three bites of sushi and i’m full; stomach churning, pedaling down st. charles alongside the trolley car—there’s anne rice’s house:
white pillars, wisp-ed trees, downtown stone and wrapped balcony below every window’s arch; doesn’t look haunted; i’m still riding; there’s an aged couple seated still on a warped porch; they are haunted—death looms; pass under an overpass below the lore of rolling thunder; chain my bike to a light pole and say “thank you” to the door guy when i walk into le pavillion where crystal chandeliers hang thirty feet overhead—going up—just waiting for the gold elevator doors to open. open—close—
open top floor: pool cloudy, water warm and salty, beer cold and wet, daiquiri sweet, mouth dry; need drink more. friends bicker over which adjacent building has more floors. the sun starts around floor fifty and dips to floor twenty before it’s time to leave. we arrive at the fly where tug boats float the mississippi and teenage girls talk about their first blow job; i only overhear one side of the conversation: “no it wasn’t gross”…”my mouth”…”no, not that much, ”…”thick”…sun’s gone.
default new orleans tourist: drive-thru daiquiris; hurricanes and hand grenades on bourbon (street is narrow and stopped when six mounted police arrest a guy for pulling their horse’s reins); drunk girls lift shirts; dance in a techno club; photograph the st louis cathedral; lose two dollars in harrah’s casino; eat something cajun; play chat roulette with mickey; sleep until half-way through father’s day church service—the message: “never lose your inner child.” i agree—now let’s eat cookies.
have a chat with bud cort—harold from harold and maude—between leg press sets at the gym (he’s between bike sets and the set of some show on adult swim). to say he’s not aged very well would be fair; physically he’s wilting, but mentally, conversationally, he’s sharp, vulgar and still blooming. to think, he’s finally reached the appropriate age for his maude—too bad she’s dead and gone twice over. goodbye my love…
next door, they’re selling gay porn on VHS for under a dollar—about one cent under. they also carry a limited selection of von trier, bertolucci and vin diesel films. empty handed, unaffected and hungry, i go for dinner. one by one, i order a margarita, three micheladas and dos shots de tequila (or more than six limes of substance, in total). we walk to los globos for musical performances by glass candy and the chromatics. here, they will play songs i haven’t heard but hope to enjoy; i hope to enjoy every new experience here, even though i won’t—can’t—not all of them; it just ain’t possible.
upstairs at globos, silverlake’s mexican dance club, there’s a small stage backed by ceiling-to-floor mirrors overlooking b&w checkerboard flooring. who doesn’t love dancing in the kitchen? the lead singer of the chromatics has dirty blond hair, muddy vocals and filthy blue eyes. what a waste since she never looks anyone in the face. if she were to, they might see her turn to stone. but like perseus onto medusa, i watch only her reflection in the mirror, sparing her this fate. soon anyway, she’s gone.
i mix the vodka we brought in for free with the sprite we bought here for $3: a relative bargain. across the bar, i recognize some girl from a coffee shop and the mere idea of recognizing anyone, them away from their natural setting, me away all previous settings, cast in a wide new city, greatly excites me. i can’t wait to get close enough to ask if she works at downbeat cafe, fully aware of the answer but so desperate to gauge the response—and her response to me; how might she respond, to me? glass candy goes on and my eyes wander the room for a tall blond with full curls reeking of coffee grounds—should be easy to find but i don’t. can’t find her anywhere—not even in the mirror. what good are you mirror, when you refuse to show me what i want to see?
while glass candy is more up tempo and the lead singer is certainly more engaged, i’d still rather be engaged by the tall blond ghost or the dirty blond siren. worse yet, i’m soon engaged by a full-figured redhead that reminds me of kathy griffin with large breasts. “you’re cute,” she says and quickly revises it to, “you’re handsome,” afraid, i assume, that her compliment may be taken as emasculating. thanks, i’ll take either-or, or both, but preferably from a girl more my size. her proportionally large butt keeps rubbing against my zipper but i could garner equal pleasure by grinding a tightly stuffed pillow in jean case (not that tightly stuffed pillows are incapable of bringing one nearer to climax). thankfully, the show ends long before any cushions need be soiled.
they all scurry away, leaving me with one familiar face in the mirror—my own. seen enough, i turn my back on me so i can slip downstairs where there’s always one more drink—one more chance. but by last call, i’m content alone and intoxicated enough to wander home by moonlight. for tonight, there’s no reason to fear the dark, the emptiness; no reason for me to cower over steps on stomped ground. instead, i howl, let loose the new pioneer’s spirit on formerly charted lands. my turn…
i call godaddy customer support from the laundromat. they answer all my questions in a professional tone while i fold clothes. the detergent left powder on the seat of my pants, but it’s okay, i’m not wearing them to warpaint anyway…
we bike down sunset to hollywood and down hollywood to franklin and down franklin i almost get hit by a car. i guess it’s my fault for doing doughnuts in a busy intersection. the hill’s too steep for one fixed gear and the hollywood bowl’s carved out of mountain. in order of appearance the marquee reads:
TV ON THE RAIDO | ARCTIC MONKEYS | PANDA BEAR | WARPAINT | SMITH WESTERNS
i care about at least two of the bands; i buy a warpaint shirt and put it away for later. a series of hillside escalators take me to the top of the mountain where i drink wine, eat bugles, and take my seat—about eye level with the hollywood sign which is on a mountain not far behind the stage.
the smith westerns sound like water and warpaint sounds like sex. before panda bear goes on, we move down to some else’s seats. they’re not here, what do they care. panda plays songs from tomboy and before. they all sound familiar but i don’t know their names; they sound like dreams i might have tomorrow.
it’s dark and cold by the time arctic monkeys go on so i drink malibu to stay warm and get away to a tropical beach. there’s some british band playing at the tiki bar and they’re alright. i’m drunk. we leave during tv on the radio but take a detour by the stage. security is lax.
chance wants to meet panda bear so we wait at the artist’s exit. some friends of his come out be he never does. oh well. we take a picture with all the chicks from warpaint who look pretty sexy in the dark. we bike the the fuck out of there and get more booze from a gas station in hollywood.
we sit by a tree under our sleeping friend’s apartment window, drink beer, and talk about what the fuck we’re doing with our lives. we’re doing this, which is pretty cool, for one.
overnight, a curtain rod falls in a crowded los angeles apartment and nobody hears. whether or not it makes a sound is irrelevant because even if you slit the throats of every cock, the sun still rises. as do i…
i get up when black turns to light and the lids on my eyes flip back. trying to follow these little ocular gymnists throws off my balance and feels less like admiring the controlled maneuvers of trained athletes and more like dancing along to the haphazard motions of flag-twirling children run a muck on a cruise ship. if my head houses this vessel’s deck then my gut holds poseidon’s sea. and he’s angry this morning. i drop anchor on hard wood floor and step over human wreckage all the way to the toilet.
here, i spring a leak, wash my mouth out with fresh water and pocket a toothbrush. as far as luggage goes, i take one change of clothes on my back and two more in my knapsack. past that, there’s a computer, a book by kurt vonnegut and one near full composition notepad. ’til the end we go. i don’t need socks where i’m going but i take one pair just in case.
the last two nights are mirror images of one another and they don’t like what they see. they reflect upon two empty handles of jager, two unfamiliar house parties washed out by pills and weed, two long walks home alone and far too many blank stares spent waiting for someone’s mouth to blink—sometimes, i won’t talk to strangers but they don’t take kindly to silence so they turn up their music and i tune it all out. if i look back on the last two nights, the thing missing is me. but if i’m a ghost, why do i reflect, and if i don’t see the one i want, why not change?
i guess that’s why i’m in the passenger seat of a two-man jeep and the sight of LA grows smaller in the southbound mirror. we ride 101 north along the coast and no matter how fast we drive, waves still crash at our side all the way back to someone or another’s home…
morro bay, california, floats on a cloud of fog and atop black hill i see rolling green rock in one direction and melancholy waves rocking blue in the other. they both cap white when washed and the difference between sand and dirt remains to be seen, but of course, once i climb down around the ocean and remove my shoes, bare feet make these two worlds all the different. my toes are swallowed alive in cool sand and picked clean by dying waves. in and out we go. my little piggies collect debris all the way back to someone or another’s home…
deep breaths. salty air. wipe feet clean on matt’s doormat and take a beer from the fridge. relax. it’s cooler than an ocean’s breeze in here and the taste of salt lingers on my tongue. there’s a party tonight so i say, “happy birthday trey” and offer him drinks upon arrival. i’m glad he accepts because this means i can help myself—can’t help myself, “and another?” we take our seats on the couch and wait for his friends, my fellow strangers, to arrive.
a surfer dude enters, a platinum blonde chick follows, then neighbor girl, along with a collection of other characters set to play a supporting role in my life, at least for tonight—which is all you ever know for sure anyway. i play beer pong one-on-one with matt in the dark and after we crank up the fog machine, we’re all one in the same—wandering souls lost in a sea of cloudy spirits.
the smoke clears and surfer dude asks me to join his team. right on. we’re competent enough to win at least a case worth of games before he leaves for more beer, or a blunt, and i replace him with the blonde chick. she’s my first choice in partner despite watching her miss every cup so far. it’s just a game. but since we’re winning, our displays of team spirit include the high five, the back pat&rub and after a particularly spectacular shot, the friendly butt squeeze. i wouldn’t dare say who squeezes but…aye.
everyone loses to someone and i’m recast from beer pong player to casual party goer. as i wander about, no longer sure of my motivation, fresh bodies displace air pacific to this coast. i suppose as casual party goer, it’s my place to take shots with the birthday boy, pass this joint and tell people who i just met a little bit about myself. “about me?” what do i know?
well lemme see, “i’m a confused little boy running from home, not that i have a home per say, but more like the concept of home—don’t want one right now, don’t want anyone really.” to which they say, “uh, well—” and run away. godspeed and bless you.
desperate to escape, i video chat with a friend from austin on the front porch. i introduce her to people on the way out—end scene—and promise to visit austin. i mean it; i’m also drunk.
back inside, people shotgun themselves in the face with beer, crash into hookahs and make out in the corner, including blonde girl. i eat once-fresh guacamole on taco chips and chew around candle stubs on chocolate ninja cake—wash it all down with beer and hash and just one more slice. happy birthday to me; turn over the same old leaf.
neighbor girl sits alone on the floor; i sit down beside and we browse netflix. tis’ the season for witches so i play the craft and we peek out from under the covers—not that this movie is scary, but the act of seeking is. thus i hide.
“one please—san francisco—one way—thank you.” i have four hours to slay so i walk down the street to sally loo’s coffee shop in san luis obispo, or “slo” as the locals call it, where i too adopt the phonetic pronunciation, “slow” because i have a pension for juxtaposing the b and the p in opisbo. fcuk…
sally loo’s appears a popular study spot for college coeds with their cast-iron fireplace lit orange and the smell of pumpkin spice circulating the air. a guest book hangs mid-air under steel wires and one entry reads, “The blueberries in my scone were warm and gooey. Mmmmmm ~leslie.” who needs yelp. i don’t write anything; can’t work under pressure.
once matt leaves me alone, i’m free to watch openly as caffeinated patrons mill about. the girl with hair like hay but curly elicits smiles from a baby by making funny faces—she does silly with her tongue, crazy with her eyes and dumb with her ears—and in my opinion, she’s way cuter than the baby; the man wearing neck wool blows steam back into a tiny espresso; the cashier in an apron greets everyone by name—well, everyone except me. he greets me with, “hi, what can i get you?” to which i say, “iced chai, that’s it.”
since ice often melts, a puddle of condensation floods towards my computer. i barricade myself behind dam of napkin and shift my pinky on the keyboard. capital I. then with the other pinky, i press: delete, delete, delete. i save twenty words on my metamorphosis into candy corn before actor colin farrell strolls in. he’s with some punk chick flipping out hell-fire red hair. nice tail. colin’s wearing a fedora but it doesn’t disguise the irish accent in his cheeky “coffee en cream” order. “yeh, two.” he agrees to one picture with a muslim woman because they both wear covers over their heads. nobody else moves until after he exits and for the next few minutes, all the birdies are a twitter over their apparent eagle sighting. me too, but you would never know it. i play it so freaking cool.
and back to business. i watch stocks tick by in one browser window and revise what little text i have left in the other. “It’s not the candy’s shape that strikes me as authentic, it’s the segmentation. Base, heart and head, it’s all on display there.”
a nursing student’s pc battery dies so we swap seats. “sure, take it.” what do i care? her old seat, my new one, is in direct sun. i’m burning up and the view from here offers nothing but a glaring coat of dust on my monitor. i up and leave. on the way out, i say my one revoir to a petite girl doing algebra on her TI-83 calculator. “i thought you were holding a really big cell phone,” i kid. her legs are so short they don’t reach the floor. but on the way to the bus stop i realize i will never see her, or any of these people, ever again. well, maybe colin…
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA
Gutted, Volkswagon bus outside a breakfast diner in Santa Cruz— sure, her cool blue body, her chipped pale face, her bashful doe eyes, those mirrored metal lips, that shiny rump, they look original, inviting, she is, but it’s her inside, it’s her belly that’s been scooped, licked clean and reskinned a festive picnic chic—
Sunday’s finest meets Yellowstone, red-white checkered cloth, folding wooden chairs, fresh cut daisies and linen dressed silvers float alongside sailboat salts and pirate pepper shackers. Overflow seating available. The restaurant proper is less charming and the woman at the counter, the owner, takes great pride in telling me they only prepare Hollandaise sauce on holidays or weekends when I order the Eggs Benedict on a non-specific Thursday in late February. ‘That’s fine,’ I say, deaming rubber cheddar an acceptable substitute for the creamy, buttery, spiced, richness that, in a good Hollandaise, coats egg dishes double in yolky folds a la fresh paint upspooled from a novice brush. The eggs, they come brown and flaky, dry, with a jug of room temperature milk, ham steak and potato cubes; the entire plate coming sealed tight under a blanket of burnt orange that when punctured, releases invisible squigglys of hot air but little of what I would call ‘savory aromas.’ The only prevailing smell being that of dish soap. ‘But how does it taste?’ you ask. Well, it doesn’t really. It tastes dense. Tastes like mass. Filler. Chews like pizza box. ‘Let’s eat outside,’ I say, already tucking my chair, arm-in-arm with milk, skipping lou to the hollowed bus grounded outside. The food is better here. Much better. There’s breeze, hot sauce and birds singing love songs to the ocean’s beat. After I eat, I write, ‘feel more at home here—’ on a receipt and the following thought process ensues: no longer have an apartment in Los Angeles— planning to be in Austin, Texas, for the next month— don’t have a place there either— don’t have a place anywhere really— there’s a girl who would ride with me from LA— not ready to settle in one place— here’s an idea: I’ll live on a bus. Where can I get one?
MORRO BAY, CALIFORNIA
The zombies, they’re on tv, the zombies, they’re in my head, the zombies, they’re Walking Dead, the zombies, they’re in my bed— can’t sleep— tossing, and turning, brain intact, and active, waking dead— the hamsters, they turn the wheels in my head, run their claws ‘long my cortex, they shred, I mean rip, the remaining tissue keeping thoughts from leaking outtamymind and dripping outtamyeyes. I cry. My future reflection lies in a puddle of tears. My future dips when I blow, ripples when I poke and flees when I stomp. Can’t sleep—anxious, pouty—so I browse Craigslist for buses near Morro Bay…
The first one I find is zero point three miles away— point blank— brown like a bag lunch. Last time I had one of those, bag lunches that is, my mother sandwiched dozens of pepperonis between super-enriched white bread with zebra cake for dessert. If you peel the zebra’s sweet skin back and expose its spongy innards, you can eat them inside out. I put my pop tarts through the same torment but in the morning it always feels more humane—
This particular ’85 Volkswagen Vanagon—codenamed ‘Westfalia’—comes complete with aftermarket tile floor, pop-tent roof doubling as the master bedroom, backseat transformer to guest bed, closet with shelves, table or desk / coffee or tea, happens to be an automatic, all the better for me. Appears mechanically sound, I suppose, but I don’t speak car. Don’t speak German either. Don’t like cars much—like my bike because I make it run, I have the power, whereas the car runs me, that is, if it so chooses. But, and this is an important distinction, I do like shelter. I fucking love forts. When I was younger, back in those bag lunch days, I would build a new fort everyday. I built forts in trees, transplanted fresh moss to carpet my makeshift rooms, three-by-three inch strips of airy green painstakingly peeled, holding on for dear life with a thousand microscopic hands, rooted, clinched in earth, eventually giving up, but not without a fight, eventually, they let go. Dug holes five feet deep—deep enough—and sat underground till my skin crawled with ticklish millipede hooves and spindly spider wands and twisted worm snakes— were it not for a wormhole in the wood board serving as my lid, I may have been forever lost in dark; although, the dime sized beam burning my thigh seemed almost light too much.
My moveable dream fortress can be had for eight thousand five hundred dollars— too much— ‘okay, six,’ says Cordell, proud papa of a baby twins, desperate for diaper money. By nightfall, my beautiful brown oasis is parked firm in a friend’s driveway where we smoke blunts locked inside, safe, listening to Gianna tell stories of a mustached lesbian she knew in middle school— can’t follow all the details of her story but ‘G’s effortlessness in spinning them, smooth like a silk worm, is blanketing. Never have I heard her, and rare have I heard anyone, speak with such crystalline precision—as diamonds are cut from coal, alchemists turn milk to gold—with regard to decade old memories. She is there. Trey and I are here. We’re all laughing, liking, laying back in a hazy Vanagon that’ll be there when the sun rises, when the fog lifts and when last lazy rooster lets fall his head. Adios idling.
As for tomorrow, it’s back to LA.