Saturday, October 23, 2010

Baby, I Invented Rock & Roll

Other people aren't hell/if you glimpse them at dawn, when/their brows are clean, rinsed by dreams. - Adam Zagajewski

"You cocksucking snake!"

The tall one is going at the bearded one with a carpet knife. He's wittled the ear from the left side of his head and thrown it off into the red dirt, where it is immediately swarmed by fire ants. The bearded man is looking shocked, but not making the noises one would associate with such a brutal mutilation. He's not blinking, instead staring silently at no spot in particular, like a mannequin whose face is meant to implicate the shopper in a joke. It was the first time I noticed the biggest difference between the two men. It wasn't in their heights or demeanor or whether they were shorn or not shorn. The bearded man was extraordinarily ugly and the tall man was beautiful. I would have liked, at that moment, to know more about the nature, the fabric, of their friendship. It says much about my character that I want these details just as the comraderie between the two of them is so crushingly dissolved. For now, the taller man is carving blithely away at the ugly man's head. What was savagery has turned to art. He uses the carpet knife to make the ugly man into a clown, a Chinese person, a ruddy little pig, a raggedy Andy.

And I've found a safe place to hide from the sudden, unexpected wrath of the tall man. I'm hiding behind a pile of red dirt and twigs, and waiting for...for something to end -- my life, their lives, the trajectory of the dulling blade, time itself. I'm waiting for the beautiful man to rise up off of the body of his former friend, come over to me, and tell me the story. What comes instead is more process. Not an end, but a series of additions. I look up into this bloated toad of a sun and see black birds disappear into its fire. Shit comes from the sky, a gob of grey and sickly white. The shit breaks against the mound of dirt and twigs like a small egg and sits atop this mound like it's too good to soak into the earth. Finally, the heat breaks the will of this splatter of shit and it begins to enter the mound where the twigs have created crawlspaces. It begins to to bake against the refuse like foil onto a broiling pan.

This mound had been waiting so long for just this heat, and this indignity. I dug my hands into it, hoping I, too, could hide inside the makeshift adobe hut, hide from the carpet knife, and the sun, and the birdshit in excelsis. I stuck my hands, prayer-form, into a little air pocket and pulled them apart slowly, making a space large enough to poke my head in. After nearly an hour, I was inside the mound, contorted beyond anatomical reality, and, through a translucent bubbling window of birdshit, able to watch the beautiful tall man harrowing the canoe of blood in which he sat.

After an hour or so, I could no longer stand the position my body was forced to maintain inside the mound, so I began -- quite slowly -- to stretch my limbs, to push my shoulders, my head, and the back of my neck against the skeleton of twigs, and I felt them give a bit with each liberating motion. But the mound was not collapsing. The weave of the branches was complex and as they unlocked from one another, they fastened again into new, even more resilient structures, and the red dirt fell over the cracks so no gaping holes resulted from the slow, deliberate repositioning. Several more hours and I was actually standing in this suit made of soil and branches, which had been soldered together by baked birdshit. It was dark inside and though I could hear the workings of the beautiful, tall madman, I couldn't see a thing. Once and awhile though, I imagined there was the faintest red glow coming from a few yards away, like the hellish light of a chest cavity lit by a surgeon's scope. In the near-dark, I felt I could safely test out walking in my new armor. I took a step and, although the movement sloughed away a great deal of the dirt, enough remained cemented to the twig forms that I was still concealed and protected. I was walking as a monster might walk, a shagbark tree animated by devil knows what magic.

A calcimine pink stripe on the horizon gradually turned silver and soon the contours of a cavernous ceiling of black clouds revealed themselves. Off in the distance, the cub-drawn cumuli were bearded with rain, and as the full rage of the storm approached, even the lids of the silver horizon closed. As a mudman I stood stock still and waited for the downpour to dismantle me.

The tall man hit me at the knees and I heard the breaking of a thousand sticks as I collapsed, my mud armor effortlessly joining the running red earth. The tall man found where the world ended and I began, and tried to flip me onto my back. Parts of me slipped away in his hands until he found the mud suit's skeleton of interwoven twigs and managed to get me where he wanted me; though I, as the creature inside the creature, had offered no resistance whatsoever.

I was sorely afraid to look into the eyes of the man who'd been hacking away at a corpse for the better part of a night, but because all effort and tumult had ceased, I opened my eyes just as the carpet knife crashed through my shell and began its methodical operations, just below my hairline, above my eyebrows. I was blinded by the blood but, like the bearded man, incapable of making the sounds of agony. Something made me still inside. Like someone had frozen a scene from my nightmares and allowed me to finally scrutinize the tableaux. While falling from the hundredth floor of a skyscraper, I'm allowed to peer into a window and see a man in boxer shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt take a cheese grater to the buttocks of a girl on all fours. As I'm having teeth pulled from my slack jaw one by one by a demon dentist who laughs as if he's inhaled helium, I am allowed a dipteran view of the serrated claws of the extraction tool. My eye -- a being of its own -- crawls along the jagged surface of the flesh, bone, and blood-flecked pliers. Aboard a black train, hydrocephalic children run laughing from cabin to cabin wearing nothing but coke bottle glasses and orange jumpsuits, while -- in a secret car, draped in white sheets -- my naked body is being slowly encased in candle wax by a dozen men in suits, each waiting patiently for more wax to liquefy.

I was drunk for many days straight (a pun that exhausts itself upon use). I was without prospects or family. I wandered along a road and felt larger than the road, sometimes even larger than the hills along the road, sometimes much smaller, and I could live under a wet leaf if need be. My size changed as I walked. My stride often covered a mile each footfall and other times I crept not an inch between sunrise and dark, when the stars bubbled down from whatever lay beyond the nagging dark. All I saw, I perceived as if through a microscope slide of pond scum, all these organisms orbiting a circle of mysterious illumination, slipping quickly from one corner of my eye to the other, and bouncing from the corner again to the center, like a boxer off the ropes. And there these hangover protozoa would float and wobble until I blinked and set the whole invisible world into motion once more. These days were not Mondays or Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Down in the valleys there were clocks in the steeples of churches, but each clock read an hour that did not include me. Once it was noon in a town where the sound of half-learned piano music blew like dust through the streets, and only a few minutes later, it was three or four in the morning in a town with sidewalks made of pink, glittering stone. It snowed from blue sky, the rain was hot on my skin, the touch of a sunbeam made me shiver. The only thing with any constancy, with any rhythm or repitition, was my heartbeat, which I could not feel in my chest, but rather between my ears.

It was either Valley of the Gwangi with its tyrannosaurus rodeo in a bullfighting arena in Mexico City, or Night of the Lepus, with its giant rampaging rabbits, on the TV in the pool room at the back of the bar.

"Some cunt, some sasquitch, down in Wicker Park...she actually grabbed me and started feeling the glands in my neck and asking me 'What's wrong? What's really wrong?'" This was the tall one and he mimicked the sasquitch like an effeminate Frank Gorshin. He looked like a bank teller who'd been kidnapped and brainwashed by gypsies.

"What was her problem?" This, from the shorter bearded one, already bored with the story.

"She had a dog with one of those chartreuse cowboy bandanas or kerchiefs around its neck. God, it was a great dog. I mean, a great big blonde lab. I don't know how such a fucking spook got such a great dog. I should've just grabbed him and ran. I mean, she was right in my face, touching me."

"Did she say anything about your chi?"

"No, she just kept asking me what was really wrong. Why?"

"Well, your chi is really fucked, man."

The balls on the pool table went to and fro, and by the end of the night they cleared the table several times, drank four or five beers a piece, and stopped to stare quietly at the stop-motion dinosaur and all the flying sombreros, or the shambling onslaught of the jackrabbits, whichever was on the television that night.

When they left the bar, both of them had their hands dug down so deep in their pockets they could cup their own kneecaps. It was their young Bob Dylan pose and they could really pull it off.

When I saw them, I recognized the look of followers and then -- somewhere deep down in a place they were as yet unfamiliar with -- the look of predators. I knew they would follow me and I knew before I took my first step from that spot, on that college street, in that college town, that the days would change to real 24-hour days, with names and rules, and that my stride would be even from then on, or at least alternate from even to stumbling to quick to shiftless, based on the contingencies of real life -- intemperance, fear, disregard for others. I should have walked up to the bearded peccary, laid the flat of my hand on his chest and told him right then that, though I may be in need of all the new clarity his pursuit might bring me, I was not at all grateful for his timing, that the world was still wondrous as it changed sizes and shapes, that the organisms that swam across my eyes were not yet blinding me, that I really wanted the clock to spin as capriciously as a roulette wheel for just a few days more. But instead I walked on, past the loud parties that nearly spilled from rowhouse windows, past the quiet window-vigils kept by lonely girls whose breath on the glass made it look as if a television censor had removed their obscene mouths from their lovely faces. I walked past shake stands and a game of leapfrog played by a modern girl and boy who probably had no idea it was called that. I walked past things in order now. The downtown followed the great gates of the college and the little dreary Cape Cod-style houses followed that. And the river and the fields followed the houses, which shrank and blossomed according to the whims of economy. And the two men followed me.

There are several days now not worth mentioning. A Tuesday, a rainy Wednesday, and a humid, clear Thursday. These are days of drinking from public water fountains in parks, where the turquoise cement wading pools were drained, and the horseheads that bounced on heavy iron springs held their painted noses to the dirty spot worn into the volunteer clover and ragweed. They bought large bottles of red wine from the Assyrian grocer; I bought homewreckers of vodka. That is what these days amounted to. Then there were more days and these were not without incident. A Storyville whore in a black paper mask pointed to a place behind the hotel where she'd seen a horseleg twist clear round in the sand. Several boys in rabbit masks ran down the street gulping bottles of chocolate soda. An old black man we came across played the singing saw, a long shining carpenter's saw he bent and bowed between his legs with herculean effort, while he ran taut horsehair across its toothless edge. The sound stilled the birds and made the world unearthly while we passed into some new land.

Charles Lieurance, Chicago 2001

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