Thursday, 24 December 2009

At the bottom of everything - αχανές (day eighty one)

The Useless Sums & Equations-

Distance driven - 12,581 miles

Distance travelled (including flights) - 21,381 miles

Average miles per day (with car) - 179.73 miles

Average speed over 80 days - 6.55mph

Average speed over 80 days (with flights) - 11.41mph

States visited - 29 (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming)


Flopping down on the old sprung mattress, my permanent indents still matching me, I look out at the old view I know by heart, past starry curtains the same since I was eight. Hordes of paper and clothes spread around me, flung out of bags, travel battered and stinking. The room is still the same, and it feels like I've only returned to the idea of home. In the dark I stare at the glow in the dark bugs, the way I always used to when I couldn't sleep, listening to 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think About The Future', revelling in temporary perfection and perfect meeting of melody, mood and atmosphere. My words are running out, the glass spilt its contents. The leopard still wedged in its usual spot, betwixt bedframe and cream walls. The cat has forgotten who I am. We all slot into our family roles and it feels no different. What have I learnt?

Eventually nostalgia for the old empire is sated. BMX boys make wanker signs at each other on the opposite platform as I sit in the faded carpet seats of a train - my heart sighs. The girl opposite is reading Ginsberg, I'm reading Kerouac - in a parallel universe a confident man has approached her with a winning opening, swooped and grabbed. Nothing has changed.


Endings are hard to write without conclusions to structure and balance the narrative. So take heed, young sirs; where appropriate I bent the truth, outright lied, romanticised, fantasised, pretended and distorted. There are more truths created that way. To condense an American road trip into an emphatic bravado rousing finale will not do. I cannot do it.

Think this - What did he learn? What did he do?

This is the end.

Here.

Anywhere.


View The Reverse Frasier in a larger map

Saturday, 19 December 2009

I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New York (day seventy nine and eighty)

Lost in the galleries, the donations and estates hung in white walled cubes, we wander from room to room, accelerating. Sometimes the view onto the angular skyscrapers is more interesting - when we face blank Rothkos, or blank canvases, or blank walls - that juxtaposition of stones and tiles and steel and glass and a century of design. Then you spy a Lichtenstein or a Klimt or a Matisse or a Picasso or a Warhol or someone you've never seen before, but how do they do that? No time to...pass through...go....to the next image....soak in pigments onto retinas....more....art becoming drudge if you don't put the thought in...obliques...graph paper and text. Slowpacers wander and ponder with chin in hand, glasses just so betwixt fingers, reflecting. I need some energy, the movement of Jackson Pollock, the still of a photograph capturing a portrait of grey faced children - something tangible. Grab your bags and flee the MOMA, past design classics inflatable armchairs and coffee mugs to the outside smog. I'm sick of foreign accents, so take me to the estuaries. I'm finished in this town.

The Greenwich village is the real New York. No one lives where we stay - amongst the businesses and headquarters and food stalls. Amidst the workplaces is where we sleep, looking up at fire escapes and down on the pilgrims on their way to Times Square; glittering lights and billboards and emporiums. The stoops are scrawled in child's hand drawn chalk fish, or community socials, but mostly empty. They're all where we were, always left too early. Le Petite Puppy treats their dogs well, playing in the window. The answer to the song's question is either $699 or $999. Romance is always fading. John McCain's daughter buys her puppies here. Three storey red bricks and stoops, quiet behind the trees. No one is home. The basketball courts reverb to the bounces and jeers of the vested men, gaming away and swooshing the net - done the same thing for years now, sweat crusted into the same blue baggy T shirt.

Rest on the wooden benches, wild flowers high up on a recycled railway track, perfume spreading the breeze. It rolls beneath concrete buildings, the sixties leftovers they forgot by the Hudson. In a recliner reading the Village Voice, roads flowing beneath us, it all feels eroded. Traffic moves in cycles, circling Times Square beneath all the city's neon. Spinning around, we soak it in, the final moments at the end of the road. To bed to sleep to forget to remember to all of it to fading out to dreams... I wandered the square, hoping to glimpse your jet hair and freckles in the swirling crowds. This was my farewell to it all, but you didn't turn up. I could have walked miles that night, trying to wear out my sadness. Billboards reflected in my eyes and I couldn't sleep.

While I was away I became better and you weren't a part of it. Gone in another economic confederation pretending to be the adult we could see you would never become. Pushed pennies into a hundred arcade games, waiting for the chinking of coins to validate my existence. Fired the ball into the red circled hole like I knew what I was doing, collecting the ticket chains to trade quarters for plush toys. My bowling arm grew strong again and I can throw without the rails now, mother. Drank beer with people I'll never see again, surrounded by people I'll never see again, surrounded by people who don't know who I am, and still I didn't raise my voice. Smashed children at laser tag, like a sharpshooter with single figure accuracy. Ran around ghost towns with hands shaking at the slightest noise. Progressed. Learnt to fire baseballs back from a classic pose, all the while making myself a diluted Kerouac for the twenty first century, scrawling worthless thoughts under gold leaves. Didn't learn anything that can be explained in ink.

This road trip finished on the other side of a continent. Condensing eighty days of adventuring and exploring into some pithy evaluation/conclusion is not a sensible goal. The previous pages of this journals are my summing up. Get back to me when you've done your revision.

Journeying home is empty - time filled with killing time, like this is a way to spend time, sitting. New York I love you but you're bringing me down. Emotions are absent, they'll catch up with the time change and the discombobulation of jetlag. As I write from this air conditioned nightmare, a fractioned final entry, all I can hear are the sounds of Terminator Salvation, explosions, screams, gunfire and robot sound effects - the screen is blue and broken. And somehow I try to see more in this final memory than actually exists, as if it is a final observation, a final telling synecdoche for the whole trip, a statement on America, but all it really is is a bad movie on a 3 inch square screen, 6 inches in front of my head, 36,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and a thousand miles from everyone.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Sproadic dreams distant (day seventy seven and seventy eight)

Your brow shouldn't be so wrinkled, boy, you're only twenty one. Subway wanderer, he switches carriages at every stop, patrolling with a face so pathetic and diffident, saturnine disposition. Cardboard sign with a list of simple needs - socks and a sleeping bag. His T shirt is all holes, worn out too young. Nothing is easy as a vagrant - to get to the subway you need a fare, to write a sign you need a pen, to do anything you need money. These young netjumpers, the small fry who escape downward and out through society. Reminders of the slips that could lower us all - we are all downcast and guilty.

Notices are everywhere - security and fear in early September. Report any suspicious activity, eyes everywhere, metal detectors and so on. It all goes slow motion as the carriage behind explodes, debris spiralling past my head. I am calm and seated, and my eyes are closed in rapture and reverie, glorious doom. At Ground Zero they sell magazines entitled 'Tragedy' and photos of the dreadful impact - rubbernecking death tourism - this is not appropriate. Add in panpipes playing 'More Than A Woman.' Overcoming disaster has never seemed so mawkish. Rebuilding has begun, foundations are down. In a few years this will be a place of sombre reflection - for now just stare at capitalism and cry your big salty tears.

Presidents began on Wall Street, when it was the capital, and before the bankers moved in and made it toxic. The floppy haired, striped shirted hordes, with briefcase and braces, are absent, spending Labor Day with the family, not the mistress, not walking down the narrow stone streets so security conscious with their barriers and pillars. Global economic misery is left behind, down to the bull where tourists crowd round, clambering, hustling, shoving for photos. No wonder it looks ready to charge. When did the bull replace the yellow taxi as a symbol for the city?

The kids in Times Square spray paint a skyline in minutes, space smeared spattered onto laminate. A few techniques mastered and you have a business. The Naked Cowgirl is less successful - makeup and a bikini do not do her sixty year old frame any favours - she just looks startled. Ellis Island was an entrance, now we're passing through on the way out. Millions passed through terrified and full of hope, sold an American dream, said goodbye to parents, examined and tested and mostly accepted (unless you're disabled or ill), and failed or succeeded on the streets of a burgeoning city, eking out an existence. Photos of moustachioed Russians, beshawled Polish girls - wide eyed and tight lipped, weatherbeaten Irish farmers - all filed away. They passed the Statue of Liberty, loaded with symbolism, half seasick/homesick looking at the torch of freedom, unshackled. Too obvious, just a tourist photo opportunity, meaning and origins pre-established. All of it just representative of America, unsubtle and massive and opportunity always. Spy it all under the glittering nightlights, the towers random window lights sprinkled, all glinting down in the financial district, up in downtown, across in the Bronx and Staten Island and Brooklyn, all yellow lights, all around, under a purple clouded darkness, spread wide over above us.

There are few sights more depressing than a man taking photos of himself with the New York skyline. No one to take it for him, he snaps, checks it on the LCD screen on the back of his camera, and goes back down the Rockefeller. Alone and rushing on. The MOMA is closed - it's a Tuesday, duh. Back to 5th Avenue with us, to watch the immaculate spend their dollars to keep themselves immaculate. Another movie set is in place - Sex and the City Two is drawing crowds, straining over the barriers to glimpse Carrie, Charlotte, or Miranda, behind the makeup artists and screens and the PAs and the cameramen and wardrobe and continuity and grips and best boys and the battery of paparazzis keeping the machine of publicity oiled. Passers by wonder why all these women have gathered at a distance. They snicker when they receive their answer. Core demographics suggest the crowd will be exclusively female - I am the only exception to this rule.

The Home Alone toy shop doesn't look the same anymore, now it's a spacious Hamleys, the soul stripped out to sell toys. Tom Hanks still dreams of it, the Big piano tucked in a corner to let you try your hand -or your feet - so much trickier than thought. Trip over yourself before you play a melody. The horde of girls have scarpered into the Apple Store to tweet about it - playing with the aluminium clad circuit boards, aspiring.

Macy's is Debenhams with elephantiasis; overlarge but still dire - capsule stores superglued into a nine storey stone clad boredom centre - all carrying a little but never the things you want. Somehow it gained a reputation for shopping. Tapering to a point, impossibly narrow, mapping the diagonal cross point of Broadway and 5th, ornate carvings line iconic Flatiron. You've seen it, we've all seen it. Beautiful early 2oth century elegance, all perfect ratios and fractions on a draughting pad, translated into stone and pictures. Streams of cars are fleeing across the Hudson into Brooklyn, under the arches and the cable spans. Pedestrians climb the boardwalk jumping away from hellspent cyclists swerving down as everyone photographs the skyline and the span. No one crosses, heads back to their hotels and squirrel away in their hotel rooms, feeling sick watching network news.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

They act like Romans, but they dress like Turks (day seventy five and seventy six)

O, the joy of rattling on steel rails across state borders. No interstate rest stop merging filter lane debacles. Just head nodding sweet and lo fi tinny melodies out of an iPod, and Homer writing great tales badly. Odysseus has conquered the rose fingered dawn once again. I'll walk into Heathrow with my fists above my head, expecting cheers, whoops and claps like the most popular character in any given 90s American sitcom. The noises will fade down and I'll pick a pithy wry aside with a smirk sneer smeared on my face.

Behind us the ladies bond over their shared love of Twilight - one is ashamed - too old for this she reckons - she's right - everyone's too old - for books for people who don't like books. A besuited businessman mops his brow on the summerheat of the subway, telling everyone to "get away from me", fiddling with papers, tattered, folded into a creased leather case, zip long broken, half shambling and half jogging away at the next available stop, another neurotic stereotype swallowed up by the swirling crowds.

Rhode Island is full of boats and weekend sailors. Rowing boats are paddled out into reed fringed lakes from weather beaten jetties, a man perched on the bow, topless and muscled, a net in hand, staring down and waiting, sunbathers perched on towels, egrets perched on banks, while the traffic crosses all the iron bridges, all the same triangular girder arrangements, always. We're just skirting little Rhode Island, past the boat houses and the boarded pale blue buildings, into Connecticut. Black boys gather in white T shirts, sitting outside a house to talk the day away. Old abandoned shops and vacant lots are all around - the poor black / rich white social bisection observable from up high on the railway tracks. Escaping the Penn station pillared maze takes time and a clear head, but we weary carcasses tumble it down into a taxi in New York City.

This is the end of the road, where Kerouac began it all, before we all finish - the last city. Yellow cab rides to the hotel, past the pillared Post Office that never closes, and all those skyscapers that draw your eyes up to their teetering turret; blue, grey, brown. The gargoyles are out of site.

A million people line the streets of Manhattan tonight, sweat prickles on their forehead reflect the endless cycling of neon billboards above their heads. It's the shuffle pace that drags you down, sapping energy. Insistent girls foist tickets on me, I protest and they don't listen. This is why no one remembers me at Tiananmen Square. Adverts are everywhere, shops and restaurants and all the horns blaring from the jaundiced ranks of taxi; you must spend to exist, to be. Hustle and bustle are making me tense - to the hotel. Robbery blues and all the accents.

The whole of New York is clogging Central Park, learning to rollerblade, sunbathing in swimsuits in the middle of a city, riding bicycles in lycra shorts and lycra zip up tops - racing machines trapped on leafy boulevards - whishing past bent low on sheephorn curved handlebars, competitive walking with cheeks pumped wide to suck down all your oxygen, so determined for so slow a pace, throwing pigskin or frisbee, watching tourists ride in carriages or pedicabs getting the slickpatter spiel. All this intersects behind in front and side to side of the churning wheels of our hire bicycles, sit up and begs cog wheel spinning fast as we weave through it all. The road opens my brain to thinking, to space, and lying down under trees to stare through the gaps in the leaves to the sky, spearing sentences with a harpoon and saving it all for never. Slack time we sit by ponds and watch a thousand New Yorkers moving away in every direction while reading books as if we were natives.

Brazilians swarm the streets - a national day for every nation, yellow and green cheering purloining from all the stalls. Observable even from up here on the Rockefeller, looking down 65 storeys from the top of a lift shaft, to the Empire State and the Hearst Tower and a million apartments and offices in stone, metal and glass, built by old folks who laid girders and clambered around, posing for iconic photos because it was important, because it was. Trump Tower has trees on the outside, sumptuous like the artwork strung around the Rockefeller Plaza, Art Deco classicist forms elegant and perfect. This is where the ice rink is in winter, that one in all the movies. Grand Central the journeys all begin, in a cavernous hall beneath painted stars, pulses of pedestrians pacing past a phalanx of photographers trying to do the long exposure photo that everyone does, where the people are blurred but the background is still; romance in its open spaces, the couples kissing goodbye, farewells from dampened lungbreaths. Central Park gives breath to the city, an open space of green in all the grey black mass always growing up cos it can't grow out. The Statue of Liberty only welcomes tour groups and cruise ships, just a dot from up here, behind the plate glass on a clouded Sunday, perched eagles on an eyrie. The designer stores don't need to advertise, hide themselves behind smoked glass, doormen ready for the well to heel, stitched up and made up, not the rest, or those with cardboard signs, more weathered and faded than the rest, in a corner, placed there, a model, a statement in the lush waste of Fifth Avenue. We see it all from our eyrie, sweeping away again.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Threaded (day seventy three and seventy four)

My knowledge of American television schedules has improved beyond even my wildest expectations. Nickelodeon shows iCarly, everywhere shows Frasier, HBO shows movies and pornography. Throw out the TV Guide, there's a new cowboy in town. These three sentences show that the thousands of debt are all worth it.

Post watermelon slices we drag our weary carcasses onto the T, away from the cathode ray tube and its million entertainments. They all head to college or work, reading books as personality notations - it best be battered and vintage to show you love it hard - or in the splendid isolation of headphones pincering your skull, eyes closed and away from the meetings/business lunches/tests/seminars/dates and the yatter yatter yatter of daily grind you escape for just one moment in the underground cocoon tunnel air conditioned chill, dressed for success. The only similarity between the Cheers Bar and the Cheers TV show is they share a trademarked logo. The pubs themselves don't even look similar - a moose head hangs in here, and the clientele all snap photos swinging beer, too early in the day for bear. Norm only ever visited as a cardboard cutout.

We all follow the red brick road, looking at historical markers that don't mean anything anymore. Graveyards filled with bodies, the tombstones in ordered rows, marked with flying skulls, the soul is leaving the body, shallow carved into granite. Crossing battle lines, past massacres, winding through the endless intersections of red brick houses, to the markets, where the black guys dance for us all, contorting and straining muscles to make a buck - "Come forward. Black guys dancing. No weapons. Giving us money keeps us out of two places - the courthouse, and your house" - this is how to patter your way to $2, all taking turns to spin and headstand to raise cheers and applause; from there to the downtown panorama, steel glass turrets tower to other towers, clear, with six million numbers etched in, tiny digits, inconsequential, that represent a human life, a Jewish life ended, affecting and horribly poignant, and on, to the North End, with I-talian men and all the restaurants, and on to the waterfront at last, our freedom trail ended - where a vagrant shades herself by a tree, trolley parked a way off, buried under a hundred carrier bags of every hue, Joseph's technicolour junkbag - who knows what's inside the vintage boutique yardsale. Downriver lie boats, and water spills into the sea turning saline and tidal. All the bridges take the traffic crossways in pulsing waves with the lights redgreenred. We're already underneath, with the commuters and the tourists and the students, riding home on curved tracks, second guessing it all.

I see you, you're walking across the campus, cruel professors studying romances. Harvard lacks the charm of Cambridge or Oxford. No Cam to punt on, no cobbled street spires. Red brick elegance is all they have, Georgian symmetry round a shaded tree covered lawn, chair sprinkled and student scattered. America's finest are networking, not working, coffee drinkers. Harvard Natural History Museum is keeping taxidermists and formaldehyde manufacturers in business. Hides are worn, some rips showing the straw and wood beneath. The fish look plastic. The jars have bleached the colour out of the insects, but the pinned butterflies still shimmer. Fossils line all the walls, skeletons frozen in a moment in time when the asteroid smashed down and covered it all in a layer of dust. These are the Navajo plunder - Henry is seething over his herbal tea. A chiseled out dinosaur egg behind glass, next to a thousand other natural marvels - a dodo, an extinct duck and ancient sea monsters. This gallery is curating a fish phobia, mouths wide open, exposing teeth. Fumes are tripping me out, hummingbirds swarm out of the case, in size order spiralling around my head, flapping wings beyond visible frequency. Under an Aztec mural I lie, triangles pecked from my flesh.

A crowd is gathered beneath the painted monument atop Bunker Hill, watching the shielded activities behind black shreds. A famous looking man swings his arms to syke himself up, looking taller and thinner than he does on camera. It is Ben Affleck. All the famous people I see are ones I don't like. Extras are timed to walk across the shot at the same point - women, men, children running, man, man. The clapboards clap and take after take fills the camera. The screens move to block the light. Nothing can be done to enliven the process. In the future, in the cinema, we will see this second scene and proclaim "we were there". We have nothing to be proud of. No one knows why they stay to watch, they just do. In hushed awe of a boring silver screen star. All the glitter got blown away in the wind.

Rock n' roll lifestyles have blurred it all together. These cities are all the same. Museums and cafes and restaurants and hotels and galleries and shops and cinemas, a business district with skyscrapers quiet suburbs, tree lined, ghettos a way away but close... run together, the edges smeared. Suitcase living is bringing me down. None of them are any different. Harvard bristles like an upmarket Portland which was a less developed Seattle which was a less bohemian San Francisco which was a less Mexican Albuquerque... it goes on. Students hustle on a Friday night, in finery and shirts to carouse, around the cafes and bars on the square, or riding the T across the city, spirits firing. Jealousy is written in green ink on my wrinkled forehead. In my shins, and in my mind, I am old at 22.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

θάνατος (day seventy one and seventy two)

Down the stairs, across the sand, down there, below the lighthouse, where petal waves splash down gently, hushed flops onto the sand, that's where the Atlantic is. Two months ago the Pacific was hugging the right hand side of the car. Now it's 10,000 miles behind us on a hundred different roads. Hours spent contorting beneath a steering wheel, chin rested in redundant left palm, thumb, index and middle fingers steering, rested on my leg, mouth howling a caterwaul of half remembered lyrics from none of your favourite tunes. Through cities and interstates and intersections, highways, curves and corners over and over until my shoulders ache from hauling a tonne if aluminium around the mountains. Now we contemplate an ocean, a continent behind us. Two speeding tickets the only red marks in the jotter. Silence but for seagulls and children.


Martha's Vineyard remains unsighted - the car parks were too hidden so we missed the boat (you always miss the boat). Economic calibrations lead to a tasty lunch; sandy crunch of onion rings and a panini. When did I become so predictable? The moustachioed hipsters say I'm losing my edge. My tae kwon do jacket says they're wrong. Falmouth wants to be so much more than it is - the shops die after a couple of hundred metres of sidewalk. Ran out of puns - Sundae School, Dog Days A-Rover... They're needed to add the quaintness they so deserve. Past a million mini golfs we stop counting everything (these blank paragraphs are nothing but numbers and whimsy) and go to Chatham, the elbow of Cape Cod. The Tap N Tin and Billy Childish and centuries of ship building never felt so far away. Name filching pilgrims. Keep your mitts off or I'll send you down me own bleeding self. National pride was restored this morning when Britain retained its binge drinking world champion title. Our teenagers win, once more. They stay within their designated parks, swigging and swilling, for dearest Blighty, swinging fists and snogging. These are our boundaries. My suitcase is overpopulated and the borders are closed. High rise living is bringing me down. Take me to my cottage, darling, I feel a little faint.

Farewell to Oscar. Just another Hyundai Accent that rolled off a production line last year. Undramatic, cantankerous silver car. Not a groan or a complaint for 12,581 miles. The whole journey was undramatic -two parking tickets, a couple of near miss bumper swipes, and hundreds of hours of plain driving, plane driving through every different American landscape. Our hands wave at the Alamo lot, as we leave him behind. Evacuees. The keys were nearly locked in the car... this is the closest we came to an incident. Our possessions lie behind us in a kilometres long Where's Wally? picture. Awkward goodbyes got left behind in Cape Cod. They are our last hosts. Yoga and weed in the forest. They all bemoan the drugs culture - what else is there to do? Stare at tourists or fish or putt. Visitors fill the guesthouses and youths chase dragons over the dunes. The final drive curves is round to Boston and one hotel from home. The dead autumnal cape is behind, some leaves red already, before the sun sinks down to a low arc.

Two buses and two trains to haul our luggage on and off of - heavy weights carried round a continent. The frat houses are putting up their Greek emblazoned signs. Papier mache entrances are being created, ready for keg parties. These town houses were built for the merchants of Boston to grow old in - now they youth wastes away in hurried brewer's droop romps and weak ale binges. Back Bay is flooded with college kids emptying their minds, in high fashion clothing, skinny and lithe. Stand outside bars and in cafes drinking coffees. Nostalgia for the university days is stalling my every step. Snatched conversations talk social engagements and homework, we sit in the park and ignore them all. Red brick churches hide in the shadow of blue monolith towers - juxtaposed ancient and modern. Trees line the pavements and malls by the designer boutiques - wealth is everywhere, the homeless denoted to the 7/11 stoop, heads bowed. They can't bear the eyes that stare and judge. Mani is ashamed of it all - he can only think of how he ended up here, alone, outside, a cardboard sign and a cup. Back in the public gardens businessmen perk their walk home with tinges of manicured green, watching the bored tourists on their slow pedalboat swan rides round the pond, getting close up views of ducks and algae. Lysergic horticultural preened, police mounted horse clopping around to administer justice to the coffee drinkers and the geese feeders. It all zings and sleeps at the same time. Everything is moving, everything is stationary.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars (day sixty nine and seventy)

On every road trip one must pay their respects to the master. In a quiet cemetery, south of town and away from it all, rests the plaque of John Kerouac. Ti Jean, Duluoz, Jack Kerouac. The self denounced 'King of the Beats'. A small turquoise Buddha sits atop a hidden note. I nod my head, wishing that one day I shall be as successful a writer as he. There is no posing of photographs, just that quiet contemplation your brain always sinks to when it enters a graveyard, overcome by the masses of dead and damned underneath Massachusetts soil. The skate kids in the memorial park don't know who he is. Think they've heard of him at some point. They film grind tricks, jumping over the benches and falling, skateboard sliding off at angles. "At least my cousin did one thing right with his life." There is no telling how much of a porky pie white lie fib this is. Speaks of a family not to sad that the boy pickled himself to death, alcohol taking him at 47. Lowell still looks the same. The Merrimack, black flowing past the redbrick mills, some abandoned, old Boott still commanding the riverfront, some historic landmarks, national park service run. Walked here as a boy, splurging words into a typewriter rattle ding and throwing pigskin. We near the end with his end, reading his final chapter. You never read your own.

Persecution blues make a tourist industry make a destination make preservation of old houses make child friendly. There are books about the Salem witch hunts. Volumes filled. Tonnes. A history graduate wants to write an essay. I left all that behind in another country. Hanged the afflicted girls, accused by a child playing power games, hysteria driving it higher and higher. What happens when good men stand by and do nothing. Wars. This is what happens when the good men lose any sense of perspective. Research equals complex social causes and elaborate academic sentences of multiple clauses. The beech panelling of a library has not been on my retinas for months. These cheap dioramas haven't taught me anything.

The Super 8 sidewalk is a domestic scene and we are the audience. Hurry hurry, back to your separate beds - 'Cereal Bridges II' is on and they're carving rice krispie cakes into the most impressive shapes. My palms are sweaty in anticipation for the conclusion of this trilogy.

This is the eastern extent of our journey - out on an eastbound spit, whispering into the breeze. The road won't take us any further, only backwards, homewards. Flick to rewind on the remote control. Atop a giant sand dune, basking lizards, shoes down the slope. Grass holds it all together. We skitter down again, feet plunging deep into the viscous thick grained sand, dampcool between our toes. Provincetown is gayer than San Francisco - rainbow flags strung across the street. The minority of couple are heterosexual. Most are all male, ticking off the stereotypes - bald, tattooed, over preened. That they can be so openly together makes me muchly glad. An overweight Midwestern family stand amidst the human traffic, staring all around them - a lost and vacant gawp stuck on their faces, They look at the sexshop, posters for masturbation, lube proudly emblazoned. Nobody knows how they ended up here. Sold a lie in a travel brochure. "Provincetown sounded so nice, but then it was full of fags. Couldn't stand it. We lasted half an hour. Linda felt sick."

Independent shops dominate, clapboard wrapped houses in varying shades of grey, silver and white and guesthouses proclaiming their vacancies to the cycling contingent. Trellis separates us from the leather shackles of next door, eating vegetarian cuisine under the whitegrey clouds. The Karoo Kafe feeds us up. The Atlantic is away in front of us, an ocean that separates us. Heart strings stretch over waves.

Another ball hooks right, a rusty swing sending the ball low and lost. Head came up, feet too close, bent too much, knees too rigid. Never going that far, but some glorious middle, straight to the hundred metre sign. The child in the next booth does not take to the teachings of the driving range owner. He can do it if he wants, could hit it to the two hundred mark. Just doesn't want to, Papa, my golf lessons were wasted. Stuart taught me well. I've still only ever crashed one golf cart.

Rachel's house burnt down so we are staying with Sarah in a pothead hideaway - Kerouac would be proud. The basement has to be deep cleaned before it is habitable, fragments of herbage spotted onto every surface. House party sweatstains / smokestains / drinkstains - a ballyhoo old ruckus sweet vibe goodtime. You can feel it. The space is quiet now, bar the cricket chirrups sounding outside in the sandy forest, far away, chirrups, and everyone gazes at the same stars from different telescopes, sighing, whispering hushed tones and scrawling into notebooks, empty chirrups, staring upwards at old constellations, twinkling arrangements they all named ages before, before Galileo and everything going wrong, when he scrawled into notebooks, on the sun and the moon, where the crickets hid underneath in the sandy forest, chirruping.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mistwreathed wraiths (day sixty seven and sixty eight)

Playing spy games - stealth and creeping back to the room on sideways tiptoe footsteps. I listen in to your conversations. I make notes of your lives. I know your movements. I have a dossier. I will use it. Over coffee I learn you are sending your daughter to UVM. She is a transfer student, this is her first time. Your booking at the Sheraton fell through, dearies, so you had to drive through the night time blank space Vermont to arrive here. I know how you each like your coffee. Papa is English, isn't he? Looks it, and the accent gives it away. How's life back at the farm? The owner of the inn comes from Cape Cod, bases his rules one experience. One choice at breakfast because of the New Jersey folks exploitation. Set down for the day. He encourages toiletry thievery - it's all branded. (I am not a creeper) (This is what happens when you eat breakfast alone).


Cosmo used to ply his trade on Johnny Carson in the 1980s. Now he's on the street in Burlington, performing his slick routine on a fold up table, hiding coins and guessing cards. Patter still has conviction, a thousand run throughs later. Passes the hat around, fills it up with bills. He's never had a $20. Liar. What happened? Why is he not in Vegas? The radon shirt speaks his loneliness, a sadness passes across his visage rapidly every time he pauses. How did he get the signed bill in the lemon? Double U. Tee. Eff. And the disappearing wand. Cosmo has got the beat down on the one man band, and the hippie lady with the guitar, sitting cross legged on the sidewalk. Burlington waterfront is quiet grassland, volleyball and couples straddling each other under a tree. The Adirondacks lie across the lake, yachts cruising in the breeze, sails tumbling round, tacking portsternaft rudder. We were there once, now we watch boats drift over there. It lies behind, everything behind on a long ribbon of crooked tarmac.

Painting everything in gaudy cartoons does make your company ethical. Even when you sell yourself to the man. Ben and Jerry do other things now, they're too rich. The company churns out pints of 'super luxury' ice cream, all day/every day. Whitewashing with cuteness. The Flavor Graveyard (where are your 'U's America?) etc etc. Commercialism has never been so much fun.

Insomnia is taking me captive. Sleep eluded me, the pillow blocking out the light suffocated me. Noises jerked me awake. Thoughts never ceased. The only thing more boring than insomnia is reading about insomnia. We spend all day half asleep, drifting over mountain ranges, a woolen blanket of cloud hanging low. All is green, or white. They are your only choices.

Montpelier covered the dome of their state capitol in gold. This is their only concession to bling culture. Only 10,000 people live in the small city, in timber framed Alpine houses. The chocolate and the cheese is letting everyone down. The state buildings are two storeys high, closed for the weekend with the shutters down. River flows idly by under rusted iron bridges. Autumn will be over in a month, crammed into a few weeks of redcrunch leaves spiralling down and blocking drains and gutters. Snow burying the sidewalks, glaciation in miniature, frost heave on the roads. Verdant shades don't last for long.

California is burning, but Vermont and New Hampshire are veiled in permanent drizzle, spattering the windows to wipe away the pale smears that mark the countless graves of the night time bugs that launched their attacks at our glass walls, impenetrable. You can't see the White Mountains any more. Fir trees extend upwards until they fade into misty white, away on a mountain peak we can't see. Mount Washington is somewhere above us, the cog railway sounds a desolate ghost horn far away down the valley, whistling to nothing, travelling a rising bed, then sinking back to the floor.

New Hampshirites see the numberplate and stare. Yes, we are a long way from home, just further than you think. Hostile glares from their pickup trucks. They hurl your sandwich at you. Live free or die. I prefer my mottoes to be passive aggressive, it helps keep me perky through the day. Low budget movies fill the night, CGI sharks limited to two second cameos in their own film. The actors who thought they would never be in a movie. Now look at me, mother. You said I'd never succeed, but I'm in Spring Break Shark Attack. My name is on IMDB - a sure sign of success. We practise our mean faced laughs from beige duvets in a cold motel in Manchester - every place name stolen from a better place. Lebanon is everywhere. This town brought the red brick factories and the mill chimneys. Tarmac takes us south, with Boston a finger's stretch out of reach, lean further and you're there, further, further, done.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dive bar remedies (day sixty five and sixty six)

A breeze blew in my face all night. I couldn't sleep, the air bed deflating slowly underneath our combined bulk. Slow pace morning we race at Mario Kart to unlock the circuits and Homer tells tales of heroes long gone from the rose fingered dawn.

This indie coffee house is helping my self image, collage of art styles and photos hodge podged onto the wall anyway they'll go, hipsters with hipster tattoos and thrift store junk clothes $10 outfit an odd angular face like a clock tower or the Guggenheim razor edged. The mocha tastes fine out of a plain white cup while we talk politics, incessant politics. Old bluesmen look down from 12 inch record covers, missing New Orleans or Chicago or Memphis, or wherever, but not Utica. Never Utica. No one misses Utica.

Father stares off middle distance, splurging out his throat with raspy phlegmballing coughs. He'll pipe in with the odd portion of advice from his considerable archive, but his interest is the cat he rescued. Let the women do the talking, it's what they're good for. We must pop by if we ever come through this way again. He only says it because he has to.

The camera charger is in another state so I'll never remember any of this. My mind's eye reached its capacity back in Memphis. New York State is nowhere. Vocal mannerisms will never convert into typed out words, too flat and repetitious and never getting anywhere in too many words, surrogate and surfeit. You know, I'm sorry y'all, you know, like, in a way... Realism is not accuracy. I write through my teeth. And I never finish off my thoughts.

A dead aim arm wins beer pong, from hours on the oche firing darts into hog hair compacted down down. Rome is a working man's town and my hands are soft and unblistered. Their fat heads are baseball capped, hair cropped short. Barrel bellies pull their T shirts, or polo shirts taut, top heavy bodies tapering down to skinny legs. They holler and whoop at the lacquered local girls, tight jeans and JC Penney going out tops, day's dirt left in the shower cubicle, to be covered by make up dirt and fake tan in the morning. The karaoke man has tucked his T shirt into his shorts and pulled his socks high, and he has no idea how to marshall the hordes, soaking abuse like a damp sponge. This is their night out, where they cut loose, and sing away the factory day, still lit up across the way, monoliths in metal visible through the frosted glass windows, industry fading out in a wheezing wheedling asbestos fed coughspluttercough. Peanuts half fill a barrel in this divebar, brick exposed walls bestriding a wooden floor with sawdust stains. The men rattle the table football, twirling poles. It's all in the footwork. Girls yowl along to the tuneless tunes, and you only listen to your friends, because that's who you're here for. It's some kind of community.

Another car passes, its rearview mirror blocked out with the pillows and the duvets and everything a college kid needs. Every parent's least favourite weekend. The University of Vermont is filling up with hormones and empty minds (morals?), loose limbed teens ready for sororities, societies and beer pong. We should have read this omen in yesterday's tea leaves (coffeegrounds). Every motel is full in Burlington, sad parents and excited sons and daughters, flush and nervous. The sky is streaked, looks like a daytime galaxy, clouds radiating outwards and outwards from a pulsing ball of yellow incandescence, blurring out in dark blue and white striations. It's still August, but it feels ominous in Vermont. Above, it seems other worldly, and the air is chilled. Kentshire rural shire farmland, wooded and verdant, fields of Friesian cows just like on the ice cream label. It might as well be the caricature it has become. Ben and Jerry sold out years ago, shipped out and died in Americana museums.

Dubstep booms its clubshaker subwoofer lowdown bass, throbbing the air, vibrating so slow you can see the rubber speaker oscillate. This is the only way to drive in the dark. With a sense of doom, as if a giant or a wolf were chasing you. It is dark here. Nowhere is lit up, and nobody advertises. Billboards are prohibited, and the signs can only hint as to where you should go. Pssst, there might be a gas station to your left. It is a hidden consumerism. I like it where I can see it.

The Thatcher Brook Inn is a hunting lodge, weatherboarded with fireplaces in every room, logs piled up in readiness for the forthcoming autumn snows - the sun shines briefly. Your skin gets thicker here, furrier hide, solidified, frozen. There is no television so what are we to do - talk... or older past times. Pinning wraiths with fountain pen nibs to thick cartridge paper (0! the romance of stationery - cedar pencil crayon / pastel / quill), conjuring sentences from withered wrists, filling pages in a journal (so rudimentary).

Albany is passed in a minute, odd looking mimicry skyscrapers bunched together, hiding Troy, where the poor people live. We ate omlettes in a diner in Rome, chrome glinting round laminate counters, overweight staff walking round with dentist's crying after them. They didn't have dentists in the 50s. The grease is antiquated, left over from a hamburger twenty years ago, or a hash brown from 1967, when hair was longer and you didn't care so much (you were never here, or there, or anywhere in particular). Waved goodbye in a Utica sidestreet, car rolling on soft tires, everything deflating.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

At the honky tonk badonkadonk (day sixty three and sixty four)

I'll tell you about the night sky - a million pinpricks of light travelled a million lightyears to be here with us tonight. You can see the Milky Way and Cassiopeia and all the constellations we don't know the names of, parked up on the hard shoulder by the roadkill, with bugs swarming in front of the headlights. We stared until our necks were sore, and drove on, no brakes, on curveswooping bends through the Adirondacks, after a sunset over Lake Tupper, cloud hidden. Before that we sat by a lake, facing Canada, waiting for the sunshine to emerge so we could photograph in better light. Amish children rode their horse and cart to the bait shop and stared back at us as we overtook. A yacht cruised past in the breeze, in front of the castle (old mansion) treeshrouded and far away. This was a slow moment of calm, lake stilling my heart into slumped beats.

Andi left us to put in another shift, filling the boxes, fulfilling the orders. Another parking ticket is stuck under our windscreen wiper. Facing the wrong way on the street. Watertown sheriff's department are short of money.

Everyone stares at you. The teenagers in McDonald's nursing Coca Cola's, bending straws, the pick up truck drivers as you turn in the road from another wrong right hand bend, the neighbours when you make the dogs bark returning back to the apartment with pizza to fill my empty stomach too full, far too full. Patrol cars sit at every junction with radar guns. They all get suspicious up in the mountains.

"At the honky tonk / Ba donk a donk /Keepin' perfect rhythm / Make ya wanna swing along / Got it goin' on / Like Donkey Kong / And whoo-wee / Shut my mouth / slap your grandma."

"The banana slug is my sense of adventure. Let's go to the forest - This is your top 9 at 9 with Dave Valentine - Frog FM. Ribbit - You say this is an O'Reilly-ism, but you won't appear on his show? - My best friend Lesley says 'Oh, she's just being Miley."

The radio is our only company this far north, an empty ghost filled highway. There are no glowing eyes in the pine trees to watch out progress. We race away to be watched, back to the squat houses, the condemned houses, where the drug parties roll on the weekend noisy trash filled kitchen raves, pulling off the cupboard doors for firewood, needles in the garden and tinfoil in the bedrooms until the cops arrive, or don't, and the crackhouse flophouses, clientele oscillating wildly, until the cops arrive, or don't.

The playground kid is left behind, sitting on a doorstep, reading books cos it's all she ever did. Here she spent recess, with friends in the far back corner, reading books silently together, ignoring the footballs that come their way, studious. City Hall is a bureaucratic sham in gleaming marble and aluminium, but the staff are friendly and overpleased that someone is paying off a fine. We flee to the dairy farms, a half sphere topped tower and gabled barns surrounded by yellow speckled green meadows, rolling farmland each way to the horizon. All the settlements feel western, terrace fronted tall narrow stores line the main streets of Copenhagen and Lowville and Boonville. The landscape repeats over; until Utica emerges. A scrawny lady stares bewildered at traffic, unsure when to cross, tentative baby steps across the asphalt, as we turn into the Bagel Store for lunch.

You can tell everything about a person by how they eat. Gobblers - guarded, suspicious, paranoid. Slow eaters - thoughtful, relaxed, saviours life. I smear hummus around my chops - what does that say? Ryan Jenkins has been found dead in a Canadian motel. He married a glamour model in Vegas, killer her, removed her teeth and her fingers, sailed north on his boat to the border and hold up in a fugitive motel. They identified her by her breast implants. And now they're cancelling Megan Wants A Millionaire- how will we know who she chooses? At least Real Chance Of Love is still going. God sits above, smiling faithfully.

Brad Pitt is killing another Nazi on the big screen carving a swastika into their head. The dialogue is very Tarantino- it always is. The Jews have their vengeance, everyone leaves happy. They sneer at Watertown - all it has is the claim of being the originator of the scented tree - every state needs its whipping boy. Jennifer offers us all and acts the perfect host. She dreams of Europe like we dream of America. Everyone looks across oceans, full of hope. Then you make it across, by ferry or plane, and it is all the same, or different in minor ways, and all you learn is more self absorbed rhubarb about yourself. Should have kept it locked in the attic along with everything else, staring out of a telescope at distant objects, conjuring words from the dust and the ash.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

"Hello, and welcome to the Talk of Akron" (day sixty one and sixty two)

"Hello, and welcome to the Talk of Akron on WNIR, I'm Howie Chizek, what do you want to talk about?"

"Hi, Howie. My problem is with the police."

"What exactly about the police is bothering you, caller?"

"The way they look, you know? They go walking round with their shaved heads, it's intimidating. Look like jailbooted thugs, ready to bust your head in. Got them dogs, like wolves, snarling."

"Well, this shaven headed business comes from immigrants, you know? White guys saw how successful the black guys were with the ladies, how they thought it was sexy, so they copied it."

"I don't know, they look like some damn alien, or something. Then they got tattoos, some going up their necks. They're meant to protect us, you see, but they just scare us, Howie."

"Let's not get started on tattoos. The young are crazy about their dirty tattoos, and I can't understand it. They'd rather mark themselves with horrible ink designs than get a job. Let me tell you, this country is going downhill fast. Anything more you want to add, caller?"

"No Howie, I'm done. Just wanted to talk about them ugly police, intimidating me in my neighbourhood."

"Well I think you got that across. You have a lovely weekend. Hello, and welcome to the Talk of Akron on WNIR, I'm Howie Chizek, what do you want to talk about?"

Niagara Falls leaves me empty. So much smaller in real life - like actors. Water pours over the edge, gallons of murky green plunging downwards onto rocks and spraying up, drifting over to Canada on the breeze. The Maid of the Mist bobs like a cork underneath, drenching us blue poncho wearing folks in thick drops of water. Everyone damages their cameras snapping through the drizzle. Cormorants and gulls float above, breaking through the sun refracted spectrums. It's all over in 10 minutes, like bad sex. On our magic quest we must cross the Rainbow Bridge to get to the land of maple leaves to vanquish the portly gatekeeper. Canadian immigration is friendly, we wander the other side of the gorge for a mildly different perspective on the falls, Horseshoe hidden behind a misty veil. Niagara Falls town is the same as the other side - tacky and tourist driven. Half an hour is not enough time to judge Canada, just to observe the other side, removed. Back on the steel arch span all the cars are leaving America. The US border guard questions us closely. Suspicious of anyone entering the country. No wonder everyone wants to exit.

Buffalo is collapsed industry, old factories antiquated in the way they are, faded, paint peeling on the edge of tottering down into rubble. It is impossible to tell whether they are still in operation or not. Pipes and electricity run in and out, feeding it all, like the kilo of pasta that sits on my plate rapidly cooling. That mattress factory looks doomed. Another family is fearful over the dining table. The old trades are dying. No one wants sprung mattresses any more, they want Tempa foam. No one can save the high windowed brick walls, flat roof, chimney sprouting square and tall from crumbling down, down, down.

The light doesn't shine so much now we're up in the north, past Lake Erie and the Finger Lakes and the Thousand Islands. It could be Canada. Pine trees and waterways. Darker and cooler. Quieter. The border is 30 miles away from Watertown - closer to Montreal than we are to New York City. Strange little place where the locals hate the army and the army hates the locals. The soldiers go COW (citizen of Watertown) hunting - for the fattest local girl to screw and take to the parents. The girls compete to be the fattest. It gets dark early - what more is there to do? The bars aren't friendly - framed by the everlasting conflict. In winter ice storms shut everything down and shut everybody in. All the babies are born in the fall and for years after every federal emergency hibernation lock in the kindergartens are all full.

They work in a tree shop, making the scented pine tree shaped cardboard hangers for deodorising your car. It sounds like the premise for a Palahniuk novel. First the strippers punch the pine trees out of the moulds. Then they're dried, to absorb more of the smell. Then the whirlwinds punch the holes and string the trees. When you're working the whirlwind you count to 24 for 10 hours. The banana nut (discontinued) was the worst smell - you wouldn't get it out of your nostrils for days. Some dusty lingering of scent attached to the hairs within. You seek emancipation through the internet and your pets. Work is not what defines you - hopefully. Existing or existence - where is that fine line now?

Another storm is rolling in while we play putt putt golf. The guy behind the counter is full of enthusiasm for everything - talks like the Californian surfer stereotype - awesome - depression is an attitude problem. "Are you getting a ship or a plane back to England?" The clouds are monstrous billowing up - we beat the rain through handicap 18 style putting - holing out from five feet with a satisfying rattle as it bounces into the cup. A drink and we all sing - badly - destroying the tunes with offkey hushtone warbles. None of us are street enough for Baby Got Back. It swelters in here, a weedy fan nudging us with breeze. I sleep with no covers, exposed.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Soft porn Bible studies (day fifty nine and sixty)

The race started an hour ago and we're still sitting on the suburban sofas talking to Katie's grandma. She bought pineapple cheese for the bagels, didn't think about cream cheese. I cannot wait to be old, when my actions will raise mild exacerbation and bafflement. Sunny mews constantly, worrying for attention. I cannot wait to be a cat, when I can sleep most of the day, and spend the rest being petted. Katie turns her back as we reverse out the drive- tears were appearing in her wide eyes- I'd have been the same. It's left to Grandma to wave smiling farewells at us. Farewell to Illinois. The flat plains are replaced by more flat plains as we cross into eerie Indiana. This prairie is never ending. The only entertainment is the place names. Slight alterations in the orange sign, green sign, blue sign hegemony. Jamestown, Lebanon, Farmer City, Belgium.

The truck stop is a true truck stop. Portly men with hubcap thighs (only on the right leg) and stick shift biceps. Inevitably bearded, distended bellies full of corn dogs, and juju fruits, they make use of the facilities, laundry and showers. They check out the radios and steering wheel covers, looking for ways to make the dirge slightly less dire, even if it's only for a day of novelty, before it doesn't even stand out as new anymore, it's just part of the whole cabin, something that's always been there, unchanged. They clear out the detritus of food wrappers and cups, layers built up, archaeology. There's that Junior Mint I dropped a week ago, crisp crumbs coating. "Professional drivers only." 10,000 miles has to be the qualification mark, right? I swagger to the restrooms, ballooning my stomach and nonchalantly rubbing my three year stubble. I pass the glances from the trucker in a sideways squeeze. All I need is a CB radio.

The airport at Champaign is empty and smaller than all the others- twinprops land occasionally. The only activity in the terminal is someone replacing the towels in the bathroom. The Alamo lady looks half asleep. She only wakes up for the once a week customer. Otherwise she sits on standby, decommissioned and waiting in her cradle. Sleepwalking eastwards, drowsy eyes faltering- I want her naptime.

If the distance divides in half each time you move closer, you never reach your goal. Infinitesimally small infinite divisions of time until the end of time. This is the way it goes on road trips. Talk to you never.

Hallelujah. I think I had an epiphany five minutes ago. And on the sixth day, they went to the Creation Museum. And they observed, and they saw all, and proclaimed that it was bad. Never has so much willful misinterpretation and distortion of true science been concentrated in one place. This is by far the most lush and luxurious museum we have been to. There are a thousand better ways to spend the money, and none of them involve associating evolution with genocide. On my trip to the museum I learnt that cavegirls sat eating carrots next to velociraptors, and that penguins wandered freely in the Garden of Eden with chimps and dinosaurs, iguanadons were allowed on the Ark, and that life descends from a creation orchard, not an evolution tree. Ranting is an unappealing habit, i will stop....NOW.

Everyone was unfailingly polite, and held doors open, and the children were seen and not heard. I am going to hell, straight after I walk through the gritty urban realism exhibit with siren playing over tannoy system to show what happens when you sin. And here endeth the lesson.

Cincinnati airport is our third in two days, and like a claustrophobic, we never get on a plane. Alamo maintain their incompetent record with enviable success. They do not allow long term rentals. Shirt patterns hug sandalled holidaymakers in their travel wardrobe - we escape as Oscar growls the pedal surges, cornering onto backroads at Columbus as Times New Viking pour fuzz headrush riffs into our speakers. This is Amish country. Do you have an image in your mind? Rolling hills, barns, and bearded fathers driving bonneted mothers and daughters and son in horse driven carriages, in simple garb in simple lives in simple homes? Big tick, smiley face in red pen on your paper. Cows wander the fields- Ohio is green and wooded, all shades of green, verdant, buildings places perfectly for photographers and paintings. It makes me think of a quainter version of Kent, or Devon. The only vague nods to tourism, and commercialism, are the cheese factories and furniture shops- centuries old industries. The Amish live the simple life I desire. One day a fashion designer will appropriate their look for a collection, and it will all be ruined. For now we pass through, neck crushing into shoulders on reverse camber overbrow hillbends. I've missed these sweet curving roads, straight into my heart.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A saturnine disposition (day fifty seven and fifty eight)

My shorthand skills are the only interesting thing about me. Watch me bamboozle you with my useless hieroglyphs. Your open mouth speaks of amazement, and I am smug. This is my proudest achievement of the past year and it means nothing, other than my determination to complete. We never completed Chicago. By the end, onward galloping, but three and a bit weeks now away, I will have completed America, but I won't have finished. NYC is a Russian winter and too many waysides fell by like waysides fall. All the sideshows were missed.

Is this anything more than an accomplishment, one too tick off that endless To Do List? Identity destruction is not something to be proud of. This is no spiritual quest for a self I can hold on to, and it was never meant to be. All my old selves are dying out, though, and crocodile tears won't bring them back. The road trip is a demarcation point, a placer to the future, a lighthouse. I mistook truth for accuracy, sketching false words on gold leaf pages. Trust these words at your peril. All I know is - I am alone and I always will be. A romantic blueprint for my future that I already knew.

The tidemarks on the toilet and the drool patch on the bathmat speak of a night spent caressing the tiles. Bacchus' fingers are rammed down her throat. We never made it out of Arlington Heights - sprawled around on sofas until we head to the golden glow of the projector. District 9 is the same plot told in an interesting way and for that it is to be congratulated. Script needs some work. Only eating Frosted Wheats means I pour popcorn into my mouth until my stomach starts to protest. I am empty and I am full. The synthetic butter flavour has turned my tongue into jerky- salty and dry. Old arcade games give me an RSI, flicking my wrist to reload and destroy the endless zombie hordes. Time Crisis has a broken gun and Mario Kart is loose. Jurassic Park, Star Wars, shooting games. Such choices, such little time. The first McDonald's is no longer open, just a historic relic, a glass fronted neon lit little hut. The only history in America is corporate history. The same ghosts every night.

I have run out of relevant photos for Illinois. So here's a stained glass window...

When we grow up we won't laugh at the Jiffy Lube stores. The Gaylord Indian restaurant will raise n'erry a snigger. And Normal, Illinois will not seem as quaint. The cars ahead flick their lights on - the sunlight has disappeared behind a thick marble of grey clouds. Wipers cajole the water away too slow and we have to pull over, hazard lights flashing. The sky is flashing purple every 10 seconds, thunder following too closely behind. Storm is near, above us, low hulking rainsmothering all around. I have no idea why I'm not scared, sitting on the hard shoulder hoping everyone else can see me, wind whipping horizontal water and rocking the car. Further on and the sky is split, a flat high black line dividing, blue and orange sunlit land off to the east; the deathly marble westwards. Barns and masts are silhouetted against, a wind farm looks doomed. The twenty metre high corporation signs mark the town out. We can't see anything more. This is my favourite weather. Storms calm my soul, balance. Sixty miles per hour we emerge the other side, splatter splash descending into spitspot drizzle.

They wave goodbye from a congested parking lot as she leaves to meet other friends. A large part of me knows I'll probably never see most of these people again. I am a minor ripple in an overlarge pond. The pebble sinks to the bottom, never to be seen again, mixing with all the other mottled greysmooth stones.

Illinois thunderstorm from jim on Vimeo.

A startled stare is being pointed at me. Curly haired wide eyed - they're supposed to be having a romantic meal - so why can she not stop looking at our table? Let us eat our fajitas in peace, darling. Conversing in Dairy Queen and comparing and I tell the same old facts I tell everyone we meet. We were all bored the first time I said them. Like these towns I see again and again, ribbon development spreading outwards - no one needs infill. The alcoholic drank our beers so we collapse under blankets in the teenage basement; dreaming aspirational dreams. School starts again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Shooting children in the dark (day fifty five and fifty six)

These 8-year-olds ain't got nothing on me. Duck and cover, duck and cover. That's how you win at laser tag. Top score of the day, bitches. There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained beating small children at a game, with the heavy laser pack reaching their knees, slowing them down. I sweat and crouch down behind the thick barricade, glancing over for those telltale green and red lights, or white clothing glowing blue under UV, or the general hubbub rattle crash of the packs of children, feral and hunting. Is this what war is like, daddy? No, son, this is far worse. I never knew I could so merrily beat children at a game. This makes me a bad person.

The post game sandwich fills me to bursting point- greedy sod asking for a large. Pet stores are depressing. Puppies fight in too many ways, yelping and biting at each other, licking each other's shit as it emerges light brown and sloppy. Cute eyes staring out of dull cages, a water bottle and a food bowl. The kittens jangle my keys as I dangle them out the bars, needleprick claws lashing out. The turtle dives and the guinea pigs skitter and hide. Nature designs it cute and the pet store makes it macabre and disturbing. The only play they get is customers petting them. The mothers in some pet farm churning out their next litter already, industrial magic.


We spend an evening like we spend every evening. TV bound or computer game bound- sofacore- pretending we're not competitive but caring far too much deepdown, or just under the surface in our littlebig celebrations and our bitching. Drinking is boring now, like the boy in a cupboard forced to smoke a pack of cigarettes. My body is giving up limb by limb, organ by organ. Blood is a sludgy slump around clotted veins and my left thigh is turning to stone. Toothache, headache. Bitemarks, pockmarks. I feed it processed junk food as medicine, fizzy pop to wash it down. My liver packed in a minute ago, braincells drowning in bile. She speaks like she's a mouthful of sludge and I can't understand her any more. Enunciate, darling. The rain is Chicago falls mainly on the plain. That drizzle is singing my heart song, a pitterpatter on bug screen and glass and roofslate, puddles forming on the grass. Welcome home.

We're back at the beginning. Parked in Rosemonnt with jumbo jets flying low loud whooshes over our heads. Everywhere is drizzled with a layer of rainwater, shinyslick and darkened. Ticket machines aren't like oyster card machines- i struggle. These coloured routes are not as clear. From our leafy silent suburb we head in through other suburbs which buzz with people and culture, Malcolm X posters stuck in the windows and corner shop bodegas. I am back in London, riding through Brixton, on my way to see the Big Smoke. Brownstone houses and subways make me think of New York City where I've never been, but I'll be there soon, back at the end.

Emerging on elevators at street level and the head leans back. Crane it further, you still can't see the sky. Chicago, where the architects play. I am no student. This is just a modern skyline, the archetype, in blue, grey, and black. Gradation from stone clad frames to the black hulk of the Sears Tower (I care not for its current name), nine separate towers joined and rising up 110 floors, tottering above the Windy City skyline. There are glass boxes cabled to the side so you can stand 1000 feet above the sidewalk. My legs warp and wiggle. Vertigo is a hereditary condition, and it's not getting cured. My sense of danger is keen.

Legs carry you down, down to the fountain where the patrol cars creep and the homeless sell free newspapers for their own needs. That hug was worth $3 and I hope you make it some place better. You sure can hustle. Drizzle drizzles drops of drizzle, soaking my T shirt to see through as I talk art and writing and dreams. Katie has the same dream of punching someone and it having no effect. Do we both feel that inconsequential? Trains spark bluewhite on the rails as they screech round corners and the bikes/cars/taxis/buses bustle and honk the intersections, by the marina where the yachts are moored on the lake for the pleasure cruises for the tourists for the fishing for the pootling for the locals.

We arrive on the Navy Pier, commercialism in its shops and its fast food, gaudy red yellow colour scheme stunning eyes. The stained glass museum is another sideshow devoted to the minutiae. They have no consequence bar their beauty and their status symbol inherent. Long legs stride (why must I remain part of the group- what necessitates me walking with them- i do not have to pose for the group shots- i am a misanthrope) away weary, dusk falling and an orange sky fading to blue but my blood sugar is crashing down so I am cranky and fed up of this dynamic. A long ride home on a sleepy train where everyone cradles their faces and stares at the floor and we are back to do the same again; again.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Caught in the updraft (day fifty three and fifty four)

My voice cracks with emotion as I choke out my thank yous and my goodbyes. It wasn't meant to be this hard. The car is heavier, topped with food mountains from our over generous hosts. Oscar growls sluggishly as he accelerates away, tear pricks starting in my eyes. Farewell to St Louis, where happiness was found and sweet drunken nights were wasted. Livers were pounded like steak in a tenderiser, dimple marks left in our hearts as well. All things go, all things go. Jessie "Kicky" Schmitz recedes into the background, a dot in our rear view mirror.

We cross the Mississippi like we always do, hugging its meanders and oxbow lakes as we ascend northwards, the nights getting shorter and the days getting longer and the heat tempering down down down to pleasant summertime warmth. No more bayous, no more desert, no more swamps. Verdant shores await in Illinois.

Bloomington is Ashford stretched out, more space added and (shhhh now) less charm. Another water tower with another name emblazoned. Basement living in the suburbs, Katie takes us bowling to an empty old venue. This is Friday night in smalltown America. No one goes out. The balls are slammed down and travel mainly diagonally. By the end of this trip I will be a professional bowler. The bar next door has pool (i lose) and karaoke (i watch). Three inch thick binders contain your options- anyone for The Wedding March (instrumental)? Lunchboxes are bought for us and I feel like a docker, Nicky Sobotka in the bar with Ziggy after shifting some crates. Drunken alcohol purchase, with flirtatious puns and we are back to drink cheap acid poison wine with ring of fire. The idle boasting and jesting. One of those people quiet until drunk, then loud and splendid and why aren't you like that all the time? Eyebrow shaving threats are sending me to sleep so I fold into a sofa and kip fitfully til morning, an empty airbed lying next to me in fevered dreams. The cushions keep sliding out from under me, escaping their paisley suffocation and flopping to the floor. I have drunken every night of the week. Can I stop now?

Hanging out with the divorce kids- sometimes it's better that way. Alcoholic or adulterer, by jove, don't stay together for the kids. John has a blind girlfriend. There are no jokes here. The youth of America cares little for DUI fines. Every single one- even the godfearing goodies- drinks and drives. Is this bravado, or arrogance?



Davenport is another town in another state with another strip mall. Me and Katie search long for a cinema, but all we find is deadbeat chain stores full of deadmeat and junk food and a boarded up moviehouse long closed. Sophie absconds with a lesbian vegetarian for a "GPS hunt" while we sup our smoothies defeated in the juice bar while the owner croons to some teenage girls, trying out new material. Jason Mraz songs are not new material, and those ladies are underage. Keep it in your pants, boy, no one wants to see what you've got. Time is filled with conversation, comparing lives and cultures. This week I mainly want to teach shorthand.

Bye bye Molene, look at the water. Filthy, dirty, cloudy, muddy, messy, mucky, crystal clear. This is the last crossing of the Mississippi, so we nod to Huck Finn and go. On and on and on we drive, never looking back. We hit toll roads and blast math metal as we hand over our tuppences and thrupenny bits. In our deluded states this is endlessly hilarious. One day none of us will be comedians. The Great Plains spread outwards, grain growing forever to the horizon and back again on either side. Bread basket boring. I long for the mountains and the forest.


There is no wind in Chicago tonight. It would be the same anywhere- computer games and snacks and cable television. What is making this a unique experience? Sometimes this expanding black hole of red numbers seems like an exercise in waste. Not tonight though, tonight is horizontal gossipmongering beauty. Necessary slowdown, handbrake applied, parkup, unload, sleeptight, sweet.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Howling at a luminescent moon (day fifty one and fifty two)

Take me down to the ball game. A sea of red shirted Cardinal fans, mushing peanuts and mopping up the chemical orange cheese spill in their thin cardboard nacho box. Dessicated peanut pieces gather under foot as balls are pitched- only half the crowd are watching at any time. The fireworks explode in glittertrail whistlebangs when Pujols hits a home run, as he inevitably does, because he is Pujols. Foul balls hit flyers and a crowd scramble to get it for a trophy and the glory. We must cheer and do the Mexican wave, pepped on by the famous ballgame organ ascending and accelerating to the dadada-da-dada. Up in the rafters we chatter and giggle (arousing jealousy and bitching, heaven forbid someone has a conversation) and carouse the night away, until we seek the ice cream at Ted Drews before we ride the metro along quiet routes, where the North Carolinans are lost and jesting with the ticket collector. They're riding for fun, they only have cars where they live. A long way from home for Americans. The crowds are huge outside the ice cream parlour. A post game tradition, a right.

We stay up forever, talking and talking, but mainly watching television, films and fighting. I am so weak. The puppies follow us and yowl howl bark at the moon. These nights fill me with nostalgia for past nights where we did just this on past nights where we laughed and sparked electric shocks between on invisible networks. Those past nights were beautiful. Trembles in my knees at the very memory. My lips curl upwards, wide smile splitting my face in two, cleaved. We are surrounded by photos of poses, families together for one moment to plaster their smiles and play nice. You can read the arguments in the stress lines, the bickering written into a sly smile. Tokens of unity, like the red shirts the crowd wear as they wander into Busch Stadium, munching peanuts and mopping up the chemical orange cheese spill in their thin cardboard nacho box.

Fuck, I'm already nostalgic. The old boat pooters around the lake post fuel change, rocking in the bow waves and moving towards the sunset, a burning orangeyellow heading towards a splashdown scattering sparkling glints over the water. The grandparents ask us questions, always curious about the differences an ocean makes. Frat boys ride the surface of the water, dragging a barefoot skier a-whooping and a-hollering. O, there's Nelly's old lakehouse. It's hard to see why the ninth best place to live in America isn't the first best place. Steps lead from mansions down to jetties where purple paddle boats are moored, all of it wooded, the stone hidden opulence just behind. This is the dream, isn't it? The aspiration and the aim. One day we will own a house on Lake Charles. If we save up, cut back, and hope.

The fire pit is spitting with its logs red hot spilling ash into the bottom. These things don't change. Ghost stories are told, and the smores are filling, marshmallows flame grilled into gloop. Insects bite your legs, but it doesn't matter anymore. Sacred nights, where we watch the firebugs frighten young babies. The grandparents bring out the blackberry pie and the ice cream. I lost it back there. Is this how Americans live, or is this the ideal, what they feed the visitors? My expectations are exceeded. This is one of those days, the ones you remember when you're alone at night and you think back to your happiest moments and you smile on full beam because this was it, you romantic old sod, this was it.

The old rope swing and the hammock in the trees where you swung and stared at the stars through the leafy green trees. Talking til five in the morning about all the world's nothings, closeted together and the soul's warm drunk swoon in inebriated flophouse fall. Talking shorthand while the dogs chase each other and howl at the moon because of the wolf blood and you eat eat eat as they feed you up still exhausted from the road and this was it, this was always it. You file it away in that compartment of your memory to draw on when you need it. You always need it.