Saturday, 8 August 2009

Post deluge (day thirty nine and forty)

Puddles still lie, idly reflecting blue skies and turning silver when the sun hits them just so. A new former river blocks our road, the yellow line dissolving downwards into the murk. We can't cross that, it runs fierce. Hyundai can't cross Ford. Out in the farmland, where the road signs are threaded with bullet holes, jet crows feed on jet cows dead by the roadside with sharp jet beaks. They flap idly away with ancient wing beats with each passing car, to quickly return a moment later.

The landscape is featureless and empty, again. Green grass and ghost towns, always dead petrol stations- always. Old adverts fading away on the wooden boards, Coca Cola still recognisable. An old warehouse is surrounded by rainwater, rusted barrels scattered inside, walls, window and roof collapsing down but still standing, still in essence a building. Forgotten places, driven past and barely remembered, forgotten lives of the deceased, dying and decaying, forgotten in some other place, or still inside, in an old pale oak rocking chair, blanketed and forgotten. A rotting skeleton rotting in the summerstorm winds as they roll across the empty countryside.

All the way to Carlsbad Caverns, but no stop. We must get on to Ozona, where the feral cats scrawny roam beneath the orange lamplight, living off the Subway scraps where the staff keep an earphone in. I can emphasise.

Cable television is a freakshow, right wing horrorshow anti-everythings, documentaries on any family that twists the chemistry of the nuclear unit- midgets or multiple children or female police officers or tattoo artists or cheaters or bounty hunters or loggers or truckers or fishermen. Any occupation deserves a series. Bass rattles the air by Sonic in Pecos as a red pickup truck pulls up. Then a cacophony of a train horn changing tone as it changes town echoes the muggy summer soup. I drink my strawberry milkshake, slurping, i think of you across an ocean curled under a duvet not experiencing this moment and I am bittersweet.

And now a man has slipped his hand inside my T shirt and he's stroking my supple love handles, whispering "Sooo sexy" into my fearful ears. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. My British heart is fearful of confrontation so I sit rigid and pretend it isn't happening, hoping it will go away, move off, forget. This is what too many jello shots do to a man, lascivious and lusty. Tom tells me to release the right pheromones, project my girlfriend out of every pore. We stare at the label on the bottle of beer, two guys wishing we were somewhere else, with a girl or our friends or something, swigging and not in this awkward moment, sweating and damp in this desert heat, spurning and away from this man whose leering affections can never be returned because i just don't lean that way and i just can't lean that way. It's always good to be wanted. Maybe me and the drunk floppy fringed Mexican have a future together, a happy home, an adopted boy called Alex we can bring up together, me the housewife baking, him the office worker, or the builder, or the CEO. One can but dream of domestic bliss.

Never have I seen so many stereotypes in one place- skin tight V neck T-shirts, fabulous hair and glitter, shaven headed overweight dykes, bewigged and bedressed transsexuals and transvestites. They all have to start somewhere, the cliches ticked off like an I-Spy book. A surreptitious slide by, icy wet glass nudging my arm while a hand grasps my buttocks for half a second. I feel so abused. Somehow I harness my dark place and sing karaoke. I toast Ian and drop the F bomb loose and low. In another life I was a garage MC, but I missed the MJ Cole, Artful Dodger, DJ Luck and MC Neat boat. I am loving it like that.

On a road trip we hunt for giant things- the giant strawberry at Poteet, the giant cowboys at Northpoint Mall; the heart of America is giant. Independence is valued like a gold locket. They still talk of secession and fear central government like a betrodden peasant feared God, and witches, and science. Oil and natural resources and land. They don't need anyone. Don't mess with Texas.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Atmospheric electrical discharge (day thirty seven and thirty eight)

It's all gone a bit Biblical outside. Lightning bolts are smiting down out of the blackgrey clouds, all around east, west, north and south. Water is being cajoled off the window by overworking windscreen wiper blades, as dust is blasted into the side panels of our Hyundai Accent and all the other vehicles headlights up brake lights on in a flurry panic to get to safe ground. To our left it looks like death, like a curtain of muddy obliteration is settling. Brown clouds of dirt whipped up and billowing over the suburban blocks. Another million volts forks down to earth. Daddy, is the world ending? No, son. God's just angry with you for eating three cookies. Never have I seen such awesome scenes. I am not scared. I am not worried. I am impressed and I am excited and I am in awe and I wish it was like this more often, but then I would be less in awe, so I'll just remain in childish wonder with no sense of danger and relish every moment of this drive and wish it would last forever. By jove I've missed the storms, and never have I seen a storm like this.

Soon, Albuquerque is lazing under blue and white sun stricken skies, adobe walls adorned with Aztec chic, angular line patterns in pastel red, turquoise and buff. Bars and emporiums devoted to any possible need line old Route 66, before the cheap motels take over further up the hill, before the university and its thousands of polo shirted and slack students take over further up still, fast food, cheap stores, video stores, book stores servicing their needs. The uni names its nearby streets after the Ivy League- Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Harvard and so on. One must always have aspirations- always- even if these aspirations lead to ridicule at their hopeful naive nature. Vagrants contemplate the hissing trains that creak out east and west, chewing and looking nowhere in particular. There's nothing more to look at.

The mountain settlements are dying. No one lives in this one any more. Rows of rusting pick ups and tumbledown ramshackle shacks, keep out signs boarded over the doors. Pie Town sells pies, out on this high green grass plateau, up in the alpine air. Everybody needs a gimmick.

Some people never left the road. You see them walking, a wooden pole leaning forward, mottled dustblown leather boots worn in then worn in some more. A knapsack carries all they need. Others are stopped at intersections, a cardboard sign with "Arkansas" hopefully scrawled, eyes watching the traffic ignore them. In the passing cars conversations start as to wishes of picking up the hitchers, the tales they could tell, their life stories, the Kerouac dreams that fuel their stuck out thumb. These proclamations have no intent behind them, shallow and faint sketches in sand soon to be tide smothered. They're still out on those grass plains, featureless bar the fences that parcel the endless land into slightly less endless land, and the telegraph wires that map the contours.

Roswell is divided- to celebrate their most famous event, or not. The International UFO Museum and Research Centre says "yes", and so do the extraterrestrial themed shops that huddle round to gather its scraps of tourists as they spill out. The welcome sign for the town says "no", announcing the town as the dairy capital of southwest New Mexico. The museum itself tries to convert the sceptics, boards of affidavits and irrefutable photographic evidence to bludgeon an interpretation into thin skulls. No one will read it all, just the headlines. "The Great Coverup." I remain a sceptic. It was a weather balloon, and a smart bit of journalism, an imagination and a typewriter. A recruitment poster for the New Mexico military academy sits incongruous in a back corner. The cashier welcomes us as earthlings or otherwise. Is that cute? All the whelps gathered round the big attraction are fading, their storefronts shut up with closed signs gathering dust.

The Roswell Museum does not celebrate the aliens. There are no extra terrestrial shaped streetlights here. Modern art mixes with older art and traditional art showcasing that New Mexican feel- a certain desolation emptiness, ruin and desert beauty. The photographs capture the paint peeling abandoned gas stations and ripped open caravans that I can never. My photographs never work this well. I am not an artist. These life sized oils are realistic and sexy and stunning, please can I have one? Children giggle their way around, oblivious like I was when I walked over the sofas in the German art gallery.

Rocket prototypes fill the museum, prototypes and testers. Pioneers of space transport, mixed with the bead work and gun holsters of older battles, boots and farming tools before the land became the dust bowl when the top soil got stripped. The serge of officer's uniforms next to the natural dyed jerkins adorned with feathers. Nature goods and invader goods side by side. The evening sees another thunderstorm- yet more violent. A wall cloud blowing in, a-billowing and gusting fast, dark grey, darkening the day prematurely. Rain is plunging down, covering the road in a 3 inch deep, 3 lane wide, mile long puddle. They can't hear you on the intercom at the Dairy Queen drivethrough any more over the noise of this climate. It's a Hollywood disaster movie, and not a very good one. No one died, just drove a little slower, or cracked jokes in the lobby.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

What's wrong with calling them cacti? (day thirty five and thirty six)

This story tells how two friends went on a road trip. And while on that road trip they decided to go on another road trip. It was a road trip to see some cactuses, down in Tuscon. On the road trip they met untold perils- a car not checking its blind spot, emergency braking, rattlesnakes (there were no rattlesnakes). They saw some really big cactuses. They were old and sprouting, with birds nesting inside. The road bucked and twisted like the best old rollercoasters. There were smaller cactuses too, because everything has to start somewhere. And prickly pears, with purple red bulbs radiating out from the fleshy palm sized discs. Poisonous beasts lived in the fearsome land, but they hid from the heat, heat that could dehydrate a man in hours. After driving many miles around this arid land, they turned round and headed back home, weary from their travels, after half an hour. The motorway was busy and petrol ran low. They were not sure they would make it back. "Is that a mirage?" they wondered? But no, it was a gas station, and lo, their noble steed could be fed. Dusk was falling quickly, and they were unsure whether they would make it through bandit country, past the ostrich farm and the ranch resorts to the safety of Phoenix. After many trials and tribulations they successfully returned home, after six hours on the road (round trip).
We have an average teenager's night. A flick at the cinema, fast food at Sonic, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. Bruno is ridiculous and funny and ridiculous and funny. If I never see a rotating Brazilianed cock in my life again, I will die a happy man. This vaccination against reality, old consumerism. There's nothing else to do. Don't seek knowledge- seek escape. Eat and drink and spend your way to happiness and freedom. I am Tyler's unoriginal thought. If I express my own opinion I will die.

The Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum is in downtown, where the homeless push their trolleys in the fiery heat, sweating down. They have to be healthy here, glugging back water from a gallon bottle in shorts and T shirt. Who would be a vagrant here? Trapped in a maze of single storey crumbling abodes, no energy to find a way out. Inside are a lot of rocks, gems, geodes, minerals and all you could ever want to know about them. They celebrate the open cast mines that sear the Arizona landscape, welts exploded craters into the desert soil. The older guys knew how to do it- dig a tunnel, a network underground. Where's the challenge and where's the romance? It ain't here in this $45 room where nothing works and the beds face each other out on the New Mexico border.

The Thunderbird Motel was last open in 1973. New owners just took over, today. Does this sound like a Hollywood pitch to you? The ceiling tiles are falling down, everything's cracked, or worn... Three air conditioners, one working. Four lightbulbs above the mirror. One working. The paintings above the bed have faded into a purple mauve smudge in the sunlight. And by paintings, cheap prints of nature; some idealised dream of nature by a Victorian author who never left London. An approximation of a second hand tale.

The sun is setting in the mountains and we're freaking out. We're going to get lost or drive off the edge or kill an elk or get eaten or something. But, gosh, that sky is beautiful. Orange blending upwards to blue and green and blue blending sideways into the orange and my god that is nothing if it isn't the darnedest heart splitting oh wow that is amazing moment of my life. The ranges layer up underneath and the road curves and takes us away. It gets dark quick when you're wearing sunglasses. These headlights are weak aren't they? We use comedy to keep the spirits up- shouldn't we have left Phoenix earlier? No. Lightning flashes up the sky, obliterating the pinpoint million year old pulsing bright light stars for a moment, all that journey, to never reach my retina. Poor star, are you sad now? I can see the eyes glaring in my headlights, this road is a dead end. Turn, quick. And oh so suddenly we feel like the couple in the movie that are killed at the beginning to scare the audience before the main characters come along to get emotionally invested in. We are extras in our own lives.