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.



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 the next image....soak in pigments onto 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.