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.

Friday, 2 October 2009

I swapped the brusing for a bumping sensation (day forty nine and fifty)

This is a lazy day. Transatlantic telephone calls are made, caramel rolls are eaten, television is watched. An American sporting afternoon is to be had. The putt putt is full of devious curves and metal gates. The challengers line them up, and sink them... eventually. I win. (I always win). The batting cages are netted/protected and full of American youths, gloved and helmeted, smiting fast pitched baseballs into the netting. A swing and a miss. A swing and a miss. A swing and a glancing blow. Then a connect, the ball swishing back over the machinery that spits them out rapidfire. This is how Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols feel. I am the winner. That ball is told. The blue water fountains sploosh past the fibreglass fairytale turreted princess castle and the tree with a house inside. Every mini golf course must have them. Otherwise they take the rubber putters away. It's all in the legislation. Check if you don't believe me.

Where's the Hollywood explosions? Not here in this suburb. Low budget film and we are on set. If only I had the motivation I could act and I could organise. Jessia does her kissing scene. Twice. In the mouth. Tensions are high- joking around on set makes it all take longer. What a bunch of amateurs. Conner rides triathlons- he's got the build. Piles of clothes are gathered on the floor, ready for the thrift store. Me and Sophie vulture circle and make off with our purchases.

In this town the churches all look like convention centres- glass and brick hulks without spires or crosses- just fields of regimented car parking, ready for the pious and pretending come Sunday morning. One must keep the Sabbath holy. These arenas with headsetted preachers, concert seating and hotdog vendors and hymn books. Facebook flirting is never a good idea, and now how are you supposed to keep yourself pure for marriage? Keep it in your pants, boy, you'll only get diseases. Us old couples, we get competitive in the presence of others- a game of one upmanship in sly barracking and corrections. There will only be one winner. And as the sweat drips from my brow, my bones vibrate with ball smacking, resonance and the yellow sphere goes tumbling back the way it came, in a country nearly conquered where I own the roads, the winner is me.

We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo. You can't come. The authorities know what you did last time, boy. There is talk of furries- screwball sex perverts. Is it bestiality? She came so far and all she wants is to talk of marriage and coo over the kitties. There is no sense of who she is. Most of the animals sleep- bar the monkeys. They crouch down and examine themselves, licking off the juices. Stingrays are slipsliding by, splashing their wings and opening divided mouths to hoover up fish heads. Tailwhips swim by, sanitised and domesticated with stingers removed. Child friendly rays- I want my frisson of danger back. Open all the cages and let's have a safari. Bring the car and wind down the windows. Lions hunting wildebeest on a giraffe covered savannah. Flamingos taking flight as crocodiles snap at their twig thin model legs.

Passing flirtations are dark galleons in the night. anything to avoid falling into that deep black (blacker) pool as I cling to the wet rocks above, a small ragged opening somewhere above creeper hung and white bright with early morning rays. I flee because I always flee when I feel awkward. "Night." The galleons are fading back into the mist.

Gareth is singing my song tonight- we dance and we dance and we double handclap and we dance. Aleks needs to eat some good. "You could juice lemons on her shoulders"- (c) Sophie Driscoll 2009. They are so wry and indie, the scenesters snarf under their big glasses, denim cut off shorts and baggy T shirts. They are beautiful, they are doomed. The guitars spiral just that bit out of kilter, before the drums bring them back under the beat and the violin wheels, glockenspiel twinkles and that is that; the Los Campesinos! kerfuffle, endorphins rush with the ears the wrong side of fuzzy on a post gig high. We drove through ghettoes to get here, tumbledown projects half gone and nobody cares. Blissful cruise home, the nighttime wind blasting my face and I can't hear anything any more. Then we try to spy shooting stars and discourse and drinks and so so tired that we are asleep like a Beatrix Potter book before our heads hit the pillow.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Kismetic (day forty seven and forty eight)

Shhhh.... you'll wake the trolley mean, asleep in the shade behind the abandoned lot, hand gripping tight to the shopping trolley full of life's detritus. Memphis went for a nap and not even Elvis Presley week can wake it up. Sultry air hangs thick like velvet, closeting your breath and body, surrounding in a misty embrace. Graceland pulls in nostalgia tourists to the south suburbs. The boundary wall is scrawled with adoration masking proclamations of the self and marks that say "Frank was here in 1997". There are no respects to pay. He is not our hero. Bloated addled gun obsessive wanders mansion bemoaning the rhinestone adorned stage clothes he'll never fit in before dying an icon, an iconic death, an icon, forever. The city centre is a snooze. The intersections are slow and car less. Cars cruise slow, petrol station visits with curlers all in place. Gas pumps and forecourts are all I know. The click of the nozzle and the flush of the gasoline. Juiced prehistoric seashells fresh crisp cut in the air.

The Memphis pyramid is empty. Whose body lies in the centre? The doors are locked, the signs behind the ticket office still advertising Bob Seger, years on. Extra seating rots beneath our feet. They won't let me into the exhibition. Where's my urbex badge? The monorail trickles out to Mud Island, with its museum, amphitheatre, and scale model of the Mississippi. Inside, steamboat replicas and a timeline teach us the history of this little area- gun battles and industry and shipping. Man beats nature, dredges channel and builds.

These faces shall haunt my nightmares tonight. Preened and bouffant hair piled up in curls, faces smoothed to a satin finish with a layer of foundation and false eyelashes. The teeth shine white, and it's nice and wide- but it's false. Grinning automatons drilled by vicarious parents. They've been sent here to destroy us. Foreheads are bulbous premature. Mothers recreating their childhood, or erasing their childhood with a new one, playing with dolls. One day they will leave you, they will all say goodbye. Child beauty queens are not made of porcelain.

"Are you looking for anything in particular?"
"No, we're just having a look around."

Were you looking for a summary? A handy recap in two sentences. Cape Genevieve is the small town. It's fete is packing up, stalls stripped bare down to poles and planks. The tombola ready to come out again next year, cakes tupperwared for later. The fayre hasn't changed for years. It will never change. Mrs Reynolds needs something to keep her out the house. Illinois is just across the Mississippi there, but the ferry is down for repairs. We park by the rusted rolling rail stock on red brown tracks; it doesn't skitterscreech out of here anymore. The white part is being colonised by iron oxide, gradually. Huck Finn passed through here, stopped on the sandy shelf of sand amongst the trees. Now barges glide down, pushed by straining tugs past industrial vats and red brick slow paced St Genevieve, green leafed suburbs leading out to barns and tobacco fields, red white pointed barns a picture postcard. We're just having a look around.

The greaser from the 50s is a walking memorial- Buddy Holly inked onto exposed arms, white wife beater underneath a jet black (dyed) quiff. The face isn't youthful anymore, callused from carousing; now he's sedentary, sedimentary. He fits in here, at Sun Studios, where the tiles fall down around the photos of the Millionaire Quartet and all the other fading glories/legends/whatnot. Does Elvis bestow his magic on the objects he touches? I'm not getting any feelings from this microphone.

These anti-abortion signs are getting me down- the pro choice groups are quiet round here- shouted down by phlegmatic preachers strapping crooked morals to their breastplate like golden coins to buy their way to an absent heaven- they buy billboards to manipulate the simplehearted- clouding complex issues into innocent/evil/murder trichotomy. The road is spooling up behind us, 10,000 miles long. It sprawls out, in front of us, endlessly rolling and twisting until a gravestone blocks the path, 100 feet granite wall with chiselled letters 10 feet high- R.I.P.

Missouri homes are more welcoming, piles of snacks and jesting from the off. An evening of nothing but TV and conversation in the dry St Louis night. The dogs flop around and yowl and beg and entwine us all and we are done and we sleep under a fan forever.