Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trance Witness Revels

for Trixie

Dana and Howard were squatting in the dark beneath the automatic hand dryers, their foreheads propped against the sink for balance, waiting for a truck to pass by on the highway and cast a pylon of stark white light onto the enormous, exasperated cock etched into the turquoise paint of the rest area bathroom stall. Howard gripped the shutter trigger lightly, although the awkward position made him want to squeeze off shot after shot just to work a muscle or two.There was no reason in the world Dana had to assume the same contortions he did, in fact it was making the logistics of the shot more difficult. That she didn't realize things like that was beginning to annoy him. She could have been outside smoking, catching the furry snowflakes on her tongue. Howard talked himself into believing she was simply trying to share in the memory of this cold and eager time. Later, when there was nothing left to be said about the adventure, the photographs, the book, she'd smile at the waiter with the haughty disposition of one who'd been there.

The most obscene bathroom stalls in all of America lay in the pentagon made by Lusk, Casper, Medicine Bow, Cheyenne, and Torrington, Wyoming. The stalls of one Phillips 66 near Fort Laramie are so engraved with genitalia and erotic braggadocio that it's difficult to tell where one novelty-sized prick ends and the next begins, as if there were supplemental ideas about penises that needed further explication, footnotes to elaborate on penile surpremacy. One organ ended in a leering mouthful of shark's teeth from which another phallus sprang, fully formed. Cocks were stitched atop cocks, testicles dangling at intervals like sleigh bells. And then, row upon row of breasts, all depicted with an otherworldly perfection not seen this side of Goan temples. Charging through the etchings in a variety of agitprop scrawls were scurrilous limericks abutted to miraculous claims of connubial vigor. In other nations, such enervated, lacerating calligraphy would be reserved for revolution. Howard had contracted with Grenadine Press to photograph this roadside erotic art for a coffee table book, and he & Dana were on the road a month already when they came upon the amazing work that found them hunkered down so horrifically in a rest area bathroom between Casper and Thermopolis, during what was mounting into fullscale blizzard.

As they squatted there, the odors kept shifting on them. First, the smell of the urinal cakes would drift by -- as if you had dumped all the purse contents of all the grandmothers in middle America into one vat and plunged your nose into the resulting olfactory collage of ancient lipstick, Tums, hard candy, and sample perfume bottles. Then, of course, there was the sudden, overwhelming sting of piss, a comparatively delicate harbinger to the vague, but endlessly insinuating under-reek of shit. The shit, at first, seemed a trifle in the rotation of unpleasant scents, but it eventually became the permanent foundation for all other odors.

It was impossible to twist around and look out the open door without collapsing the acrobatic stance in which the two were locked. A shift of that magnitude would send them both tumbling into the camera tripod. But in the periphery, Howard could see the blizzard was picking up momentum and a few minutes later a wind tore through the dark room and sent the trash can sprawling into the back wall. The idea of big, blurry flakes of snow in the shot began to appeal to Howard. They would glow like stars when the shaft of light cut the room in two -- a foreground of pale candy floss, the teal blue tiles on the wall, the turquoise paint on the stall, and the intricately veined, roaring cock, its balls emitting lightning bolt pubic hair, its tip spouting a cartoon balloon containing a smear of illegible Spanish.

"Can you picture the person who took the time to do this?" Howard asked. It took some effort, but he managed to push one foot outward a bit to stabilize their position. Howard was hoping to move it further, but Dana's fingernails dug into his thigh, and he knew she was in danger of losing her balance entirely. He continued: "I mean, you assume it's a teenager, right? But what if it was some 50-year-old businessman, on his way home from a sales convention, drunk on scotch, amped up on his kids' ritalin...He sits to a take a shit and sees all these hieroglyphs, loosens his tie, takes out his swiss army knife, and goes to fucking work..." Suddenly they both froze, thinking they heard the sound of an engine, but it was the wind. "He creates this enormous, disappointed prick -- look at the veinwork, the shadow of the head on the shaft, the balls curved outward like wineskins, or...or workboots..."

Howard wasn't really looking at the room anymore, at the path he hoped the tuck lights would take. He was just daydreaming about the kind of person who would buy a book like this. He imagined a middle-aged, very handsome man, the descendent of fin-de-siecle decadents in a crushed velvet housecoat. All the man's friends thought he was gay, but really he was a sexual omnivore. Well, to be frank, while he considered himself sexually omnivorous, he'd never found a soul willing to give proof to the theory. So he spent his life in sketchy idleness, occasionally showing a young paper boy his collection of dirty pens. His favorite was a souvenir from the 1939 New York World's Fair, a hefty ballpoint featuring Jean Harlow in a swimsuit. When the pen lay flat, the star was the very model of bathing decorum, but when turned vertically, her one-piece drained off her body as if it had suddenly turned to coffee. Hopefully, the book would become some kind of photographic "what-is-it?" like Michael Lesey's Wisconsin Death Trip, a cult item for the ages.

The room began to warm some and Howard could make out colors again, the outline of fixtures. It was amazing the amount of heat even distant light could generate when one had been slouched down in the cold and the dark for hours. There was a truck coming. He could even hear the splash of slush sucked into the huge treads and spit back onto the highway. He could already tell which way the light would fall across the room, a perfect megaphone shape that would begin as a cup of light in the doorway and then spill willy-nilly onto this totemic cock.

There it was. The light. And there were snowflakes just sitting in the air, so still. The combination of the oncoming lights and the teal blue tiles on the wall made these ghostly puffs of ice look like elaborate lichens clinging to invisible rocks. Suddenly the pages of the book flipped through his head -- the saturated colors of all the bathroom walls, each engraved desperately with these hourglass shapes, Heavy Metal skulls for heads, nipples turning into long probing snakes which reached into vaginas, clits plump as raspberries, assholes with solar rays and eyeballs even, and, of course, all the genitalia utterly disembodied, floating and monolithic or floating and cavernous. Cavemen, Howard thought. Cavemen were trying to draw the beauty of a woman's ass and long sloping back but were unwilling to part with a glimpse of pussy and tit as well, so the whole body became a two-dimensional helix where all those precious desirables existed on one confused plane...

There it is. The light.

Howard squeezed the bulb in his hand again and again, even this meager motion sending waves of relief up to his shoulders and neck. His whole body was a trigger and he was pulling it and the light was falling perfectly and the snowflakes were sitting on some current of invisible air like glass figurines on a coffee table. Then there was too much light and he stopped squeezing the bulb and once again felt Dana beside him. He felt her heart beating against his shoulder, her right breast laid neatly in the crook of his arm. He remembered the last time he fucked her, how rudimentary it had been. He'd meant to lay his hands flat on the bed as he fucked her, but he wound up on his knuckles like a goddamn ape. He meant to watch the head of his cock enter her and retract, again and again, like in a dream. But up on his knuckles like that, thrust forward, he could only stare into her face or the pit of her throat. He'd been caught, caught once again in the same dull sexual posture his parents must have used to conceive him. He heard the truck's brakes decompress and then the slamming of a door. The snowflakes became dervishes and then rushed from the room on a new whip of wind. The trucker was whistling one long note over and over as he came up the walkway. Howard and Dana were still struggling to their feet when he switched on the light.

Charles Lieurance, Chicago 2002

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