Joined at the Hips

When you hitchhiked back then, before it was redefined as criminal trespass – and dangerous – you could get around OK and once in a while catch a ride with someone you would never have met in your regular life. [Do not take too seriously the image of my mother sobbing on her knees, clutching my ankle as I told her I was hitching to Colorado or fill-in-the-blank.] Think of hitchhiking like this: you take the numbers on a paint-by-number painting and rearrange them. Think of it as Catholicism in a rolling tin box. Think of it as fieldwork towards your Masters in Aberrant Psychology. I set about to hitchhike distances longer than a bike ride because I did not want to own a car. That gave a dignified, but somewhat dishonest, turn to the notion of being “wheel-less,” because not wanting to own a car out of principle is different from being scared to take the road test or the fact that I couldn’t afford a set of wheels – not even a 20-year-old Ford Pinto.

illustration by Francesca Palazzola
illustration by Francesca Palazzola

I became a journalist for a paper that put muffin recipes and missing pet stories on the front page. Also gardening tips, what is crack cocaine, how to earn money from the Internet, hunting licenses, car break-ins, the Easter “parade,” which I described as one long march of sad commercials, floats made of big billboards with a few paper flowers taped to them on a flatbed truck advertising the new “Big Gulp” discount, with waving little girls wearing very adult make-up and fake eyelashes, details that the editors were probably right to edit out, although they may have secretly snickered and sided with me – or acted like they did – perceiving that I may have had some obscure access to methods of coolness due to time spent in the East Village.

The story told to me I took at face value because the veracity or provability of the tale just distracted from its intriguing qualities as seedy entertainment. Besides, the truth was that my ride told me this story – period. Whether it was true as in immutable fact would be a hassle and waste of time to investigate. Let’s just say the publisher wasn’t about to fund my curiosity and/or perversions. It was simply interesting because: 1. it was a really, really weird story; 2. it passed the dead time in the car admirably; 3. and WHY he felt the urge to divulge this tale to me in the first place. You could say: The residue of Catholicism continues to cling to the parts of our soul that cover qualm and apprehension.

Anyway, it was told to me by the guy who managed to program the CD player, adjust the ventilation, stroke a patchy stretch of facial hair – you know, body language that exposes someone’s gauging the gullibility of humanity [me] – while he kept turning to me in the passenger seat, taking his eyes off the road as he spoke with the kind of nonchalant confidence and recklessness that only people born in a car – which he also claimed – can exhibit.

He’s looking at me with eyes that are demanding I take him seriously before it’s too late and he is dead. “She’s scratchin’ her neck. I notice the welt is bleedin’. Fuckin’ no-see-ems! Come down in dark blankets. There’s them that say how a blanket was so heavy once in 1953 that it blotted out the sun. But that’s ages ago. ‘Tha’s Connie. I’m June,’ she says. The woman. The mother. MILF material. Oh yeah.”

His hand letting go of the steering wheel, banging it, is a little distracting. But you can’t act spooked by the way people come alive when they test death. You can’t for a second let on that you are maybe afraid the road might get pulled out from under you like the old tablecloth trick.

“Connie’s gone. Lalaland. Eaten all the fruit off duh fruitcake. Yea. Her ear pressed into a red transistor radio – when’s the last time you seen one of them?!”

I have one sitting on a shelf in my office, coincidentally. But decide to just agree and let him go on. Just like you don’t argue with a guy with a gun – his mind did make you think of a guy waving a gun in a stick-up about to go wrong.

“June’s like the good side of history around here. Like the closest we ever come to royalty but she don’t know me cuz I’m the guy in the trenches and she’s on a throne. Like that lady that play Patsy Cline…”

He’s just staring out thinking maybe a star or a road sign will provide him with the right answer.

“Jessica Lange,” I almost whispered, hoping not to test his sensitivity to people who may know stuff. “She was also good in The Postman Always rings Twice. Ever seen it?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Better not if you still want to have any hope in mankind.”

“Don’t need to see it. Me, I prefer animals: Dogs, horses, cattle. You look a sheep in the snout, you get back what you put into it – times two. Jane, she was like so used to her beauty she was indifferent to the burden of it. You know like hit up everyday of her wakin’ life. It ain’t no fun bein’ a queen in a backwash.” He gazes ahead, his eyes in the branches, wondering if maybe his desires didn’t play a small part in Jane’s eternal passive malcontentment.

“An’ Jane, she tell me her Connie ain’t crazy, mind you. We KNOWs about Connie. But she don’t seem to even rekignize me. But, yea, put Con behind a piano and you see. She can bang out the Beatles or ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing,’ she can play it. Just slow outa the starting gate’s all. Idiot savant some say.” We rode through a dingy morass of grey trees that admitted shards of sunlight, revealed collapsing porches, yawning shadows, rusting balers, gutted Chevys.

“People round here – I ain’t sayin’ my sad ass excuse for parents – they can tell stories of when things were better. They could tell stories about the mines. But mostly they don’t. It’s like an ulcer. You don’t talk about it but once in awhile somebody catch you buckled over in deathly pain.”

You have to think of the car as a confessional. There’s no way around it. No kneeler but you can hear abominable stuff in a car.

“Connie could rhyme like she’s a rapper or somethin’. It never make no sense until you hear it a lot and suddenly like yer passin’ a Frosty Kone and she’ll blurt out ‘missin’ bone’ or ‘Philistone.’ You know like outa the Bible, like she’s read the Bible. But this ain’t about Connie.”

His face has got that not-quite-at-peace painful look folded out across it like a sheet you pull from the clothesline and try to fold in a wind.

“Nothin’ get between Con’s eyes and the magic she see. ‘Sky’s blue – Timbuctooo.’ Shit like that. But this ain’t about Connie or Jane.” He’s fiddling with the car radio like he’s got a way of conjuring up something more than what’s on offer. Like the right fiddlin’ will lead to the perfect soundtrack for our journey.

“I thought maybe I could get through to Connie. Like speak through her handicap like usin’ rhyme and shit. You know, like you poke a plastic bag and the ice water come out and you put your mouth under it and you get a drink. Man, that girl is built like women in magazines from the 1960s. She been built that way since she’s 11. You can see where she gets it from too. WOO! You don’t gotta look real hard. It’s like Janet Leigh’s in town and she’s blind to my kind. I don’t use the word ‘kill’ ‘cept about some of the melted down pathetic excuses for mankind ’round here; some of’m are pure scuz-minded scum, givin’ Connie rides home. And where’s the father, nobody been able to give answer to. You know some nasty poison’s spillin’ outa their brain pans. There’s a sayin’ which yer s’posed to hate ‘round here cuz it’s like a put down: Only time sheep and school girls’re safe ‘round here’s on Sundays. Cuz they all know hell ain’t but half full.”

I am not from around here but I know the stories of fumes wafting out of old mines – you couldn’t have barbecues or open flames for the longest time.

“They say the fumes ain’t harmful but none of them people’s actually livin’ ‘round here.”

I know from doing a few crime stories and reading up on stuff that when the body decomposes, that foul odor comes from the rotting body and is hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen phosphide, ammonia, methane gas. And so there’s some who talk about bodies trapped down there, never recovered.

“Death, like a murder with a fat underbelly of story that stinks like the air around here and some cheap-ass Revlon Charlie perfume spilled on a backseat and some Spic n Span to rid of the evidence would bring us all back to life. It really would. Heaven help the helpless.” He’s lighting another cigarette while his knee steers us. He looks my way and you can see the light in his eyes, that cavalier disregard for boring safety, with death near at hand – “Dead Man’s Curve, it’s no place to play…”

“World’s my ashtray. And that she don’t remember – our own Janet Leigh our own Jessica Lange. Every ounce in the right place. Could lift men right outa their graves. Or so they say. Maybe that’s what ate away at Harold. Oh, with medical costs, tests and shit she moonlighted the Lounge. Trucker place. It wasn’t T&A but might’s well’ve been. Full of truckers, desperate and braved up from weeks of pent-up daydreamin’. Stink o’ cologne make yer eyes water. I mean SHEEEiT!”

He’s staring out the windshield and on his face, you don’t know whether it’s a grimace or a smirk.

“And that she took me home once not even carin’ bout my age. And that she don’t remember even though I was a perfect gentleman. We are sittin’ there soppin’ down cans of American Beer outa Pittsburgh – I read the label when she went to the twa-let.”

“When she come back she’s got out this old brown, stained envelope like it’s been in a basement forever. She pulls out a pile of articles, clippings and photos. She’s all comfortable in this halter and hot pants outfit and I’m supposed to concentrate. And I am doin’ my Christian best, you know I am. She says, ‘This here’s my mom, Violet, and my Aunt Vanessa. The Alewife Twins.’ She lets out a sigh that turn into a healthy burp. ‘Excuse me,’ she says, ‘Famous Siamese twins. Vaudeville, the whole trip. That’s Edith, their Aunt and guardian. She got ‘em venues like the Loew and Orpheum. Edith, the slavemaster, had’m on violin, sax and piano before they took their first steps. Look’t those Shirley Temple curls. So adorable! AND profitable. AND sad. Edith kept’m looking young like pre-teen way into their 20s. Kept ‘em in line with a leather belt. Wack! And a mouth like a dog bite. Behind those girls’ smiles was like Tears Of A Clown.’”

He’s not shaking his head exactly but holding a puff of smoke a really long time like it’s a magic trick. “‘Here’s a strange shot,’ she says, ‘Aunt Van lookin’ dazed. Poor woman.’ On the back it says: After operation. In loss there’s hope. ‘Mom and Aunt Van were pygopagi,’ and I’m like what the … try’n pronounce ’at!”

“Pie-go-padge-ee.”

“That prol’y be about right. Means joined at the hips, she says. But you knew that. She shows me a close up of the scar after they were sawed apart. To me it looks like when you rip a clump of dough in half. It was a famous operation using this new surgical saw.”

“She’s sayin’: ‘I should get a photo album. Organize all this. But this is how I remember it – one big clump o’ memory. All there all at once. To me they were like one person. As Aunt Van’d say; When I walked to the left, yer mom’d have to go left, that’s how we co-existed. Don’t they look the floozies at 17! Aunt Van always smellin’ expensive. Certain scents bring back images of when she’d dress me. My nose against her skin. Van dragged me everywhere. Includin’ the time she leaped off’n that bridge in Scranton. In the Susquehanna is how I learned to swim.’ Tears wellin’ up in her eyes.”

I’m sitting next to I don’t know his name and I was almost leaping into that news photo of aunt Van’s leap with Jane in tow. Into the dark dots of the photo’s dot screen. Into the blackest of the black areas of the photo. Into the dark coat, the dark terror-struck eyes, the dark dark of the black black water, spinning, sucking, spiraling, absorbing.

“She shows me a famous photo of them by this this Diane uh uh Orbis. Ring a bell mister?”

“Arbus. She took photos of this life’s freaks. Committed suicide in the end.”

“She never knock on my door. Suddenly like boom Aunt Van discovers she’s got men lookin’ at her in strange ways. Cuz I guess men didn’ get that they were like really attached.”

Jane is sittin’ there on the couch with her shiny legs is the picture he’s painting for me. A slightly sinister or enchanted smile. “She’s sayin’ how she remembers the thrills they felt with their first kisses. They say fear plus gettin’ yer hump on is like rock n roll. Jane’s sayin’ how guys’d line up outside their dressing room with their bouquets and their openin’ lines. And when one was drunk with a kiss about to happen the other felt it as well. Cuz, you see, they shared the same blood. ‘So when one heart fluttered the other echoed that flutter,’ is how Jane put it. I’m like gawkin’ at the most prefect legs and thinkin’ why am I here?”

“A lot of those who thought they could handle the bound-at-the-hips thing discovered they were wrong. So her and Aunt Van learned to make ’emselves invisible, be oblivious to one another as their private lives grew apart and more complicated with suitors, flowers, promises, booze, dresses, photographers, agents and fame whores. So Violet could be readin’ a book, while Van’s tongue-wrestlin’ the local Allstate insurance agent.”

Is him putting heavy foot to the pedal a result of the increased heat of the story or vice versa? In any case, we are traveling through blurred countryside that looks like a 19th-century landscape.

“‘Here, this one shows mom posed with her beau,’ she’s sayin’, ‘this ambitious and funny orchestra leader, while Aunt Van here, the caption says Blending in like a doily on a couch, engrossed in a light work of fiction.’ That was in Click Magazine.”

“We should slow down.”

“You wanna drive? Me and this old Impala are one. We are religion together. We don’t know nobody around here with no civic duty to drive safely. You drive safely you die in the end anyway.”

The terror, the sheer roadway terror. And not for a moment could I reveal myself to be a candy-ass wuss.

“I guess Violet’s boyfriend was a nice guy, handy too. He built this special couch, she says. Hollowed out a shape, then strung a curtain-type of trapdoor across a hole in the wall so the two could live apart together. Have their own lives and hanky panky. This guy even tried to marry her. I remember she sayin’ 24 states turned ’em down on public morals and bigamy grounds. Their love died like uh innertube tossed aroun’ a cactus. she shows me pictures of Houdini with the twins; he kept ’em away from unscrupulous agents. There was one with W.C. Fields who used to snap his suspenders whenever he was around pretty girls. And Jane says he snapped ‘em a lot around ’em. And then Aunt Van starts dating this VERY sick but dapper saxophonist. Wild hair. Fast talking. Drugs. Comes on strong about hitchin’ his wagon. Promises to pay for their operation. He’s promising the twins the planets. Drank from her hi-heel. Kissed her feet. Ran his hand up her leg. Never takin’ no notice of Violet who’d be readin’, doin’ her nails just the other side of the curtain.” My chauffeur has moments when you think: how do I hide my regret. That kind of look.

“Like this guy would spoon feed honey right down Aunt Van’s ear. And it’s all music and hearts and cavities. He’d lift her right leg up to her ear, kiss the knee and as he’s chewin’ her ear, he’s steppin’ out of his breeches and is goin’ in easy as a pistol into its holster. And Jane’s like ‘Please forgive me, Dear Lord, for snooping in her diaries.’ And I’m like ‘Fuck that, Jane’ – I’m thinkin’ – not sayin’ – just read it, it’s for the good o’ mankind. I ain’t shittin’. But then he started bein’ a vain fuck, tryin’ to arouse that mysterious other voice Van’s connected to. He’d be rockin’ Aunt Van furiously to get to Violet, you see, which Jane’s tellin’ me led to some amazin’ three-way conversations. The more they talked the more aroused he got by that other voice. Besides, Violet also played sax on stage. And so to get to Violet he took Van ever more forcefully like with a heap o’ rockin’ action. There she be like some old painting of some pink babe on a fluffy cloud. So when Aunt Van trembled so did Violet. So when he made her blood boil, Violet’s got pretty hot too. And then Van’d drift off to sleep and sax man’d slink over to Violet’s room like some dark creature from a B-movie and there was Violet lyin’ there fully primed, perspiration beadin’ up like little costume jewels on her forehead. Like whose blood was whose, like whose wishbone is whose. He could just whisper like a songbird like Errol Flynn, like her own Rhett Butler. And the more of nothin’ he was feedin’ her heart, the more the nothin’s meant a lot, meant everything.”

“That’s the way it works with infatuation – I hear.”

“He’s like tellin’ her that Aunt Van approved and said that she thought that Violet was more meant for him than she was. Paperback fallin’ to the floor and, well, you know the rest of this Hollywood scene. Violet’s enterin’ a time before books. He’s calm like a chess player and then he’s draped over her, placing her slender hand around his throbbing sexophone and let her guide it into her jazz, as he’s callin’ it. And next thing you know Jane says “and here I am.”

“She was havin’ me over thinkin’ I’m some snoop snoop sherlock comin’ to her aid. And fer a minute I’m thinkin’ MILF booty for a lead on Mr. Sexophone. I done tailed a rough individual before but I ain’t about to carry this mental photo of him around with me. It’d be like a disease. And then she’s tellin’ me more’n I wanna hear: They both got their own anus, vagina, reproductive system, ticklish spots – shit like that. That she was three when her mom dies. A shard of mirror sliced across her wrists. And, what I’m hearin’, a stranger’s fingerprints along with my mom’s on the shard and then how Aunt Van became her mom, just like that – until she did herself in five years later. She was all set, was going to treat her hip like a scar from a car accident that had killed sis. But she just couldn’t live it and the water took her under the bridge. Jane says she remembers seeing her like a lily floating downstream. I’m leanin’ back, wond’rin’ what to do, what all actually happened to Harold, Connie’s dad.”

“You never came up with anything on him?”

“They only solve like half o’ all murders. Aunt Van, you gotta realize was famous, in magazines and on stages and shit and like she was quicker than a bug’s cumshot forgotten.”

“Like the daydreams of a switchboard operator.”

“Life don’t make sense and maybe that’s where the magic is – it don’t make sense. She got what she thought she wanted but didn’t know what to do with it.”

“You think?”

“That’s my take. Maybe she was right to be agains’ the operation.”

“We still in PA?”

“We left PA hours ago. PA done cease to exis’ bruthah… And Connie comes in barefoot – we ain’t done yet. Punchline is there is no punchline. The TV is off signalin’ a new course, a new chapter. She takes me by the hand without a word through the kitchen, out back. There’s Donnie Osmond, scrawny mutt, tied to a peg in the yard. In the garage, we’re in the blue Malibu – I’m thinkin’ they been makin’ Malibus since like ’65 and I’m thinkin’ somethin’ ain’t right. She takes my hand and guides it under the seat, into a rip where she kept a stash of stones, toys, bird bones and a photo of Donnie Osmond (the singer). I behold each one of these secret artifacts and she’s hummin’.”

I am thinking – while he’s looking for a second wind along the dash with his nubby fingers or maybe just another PowerMaster energy drink – that we are not escaping, just headed out of one town and as soon as you’re on the outskirts of one you’re headed for another and so you’re not ever escaping nothing. And maybe that’s my ride’s point. And rolling around on the floor at his feet he finds a PowerMaster [500 mg of caffeine per 24 oz can], which the news says can make you big, your heart big, your ambitions big, your will to go on… But after an hour you cave in and all it does is inflate the withdrawal symptoms like paranoia, impatience, unsettled fatigue, drowsiness, dysphoric moods including doom and gloom, concentration and cognitive performance problems, depression, irritability, and a strange relationship between ego and one’s surroundings.

“I am like walkin’ on air. I am not like really bein’ myself. She’s leadin’ me past the old willow, the gutted ‘64 Pontiac – a treasure just rustin’ away! – past some weathered old planks, rusty barrels filled with old tin cans, and some rusty skeins of barbed wire… Joe Pie Weed, out behind the old shed made of flagstone and corrugated steel. There out back there, she’s pokin’ at my ribs, squeezin’ my biceps to be sure I’m real and then she liftin’ her tee shirt to to to reveal her charms – yep, nice titties, but I ain’t fuggin’ stupid. It’s got like entrapment written all over it. She’s holdin’ her tee shirt up in her teeth. But I pulled it back down and just briefly stroked her head. But she was like not gettin’ it. Confused cuz after all she’s special. She bites down on her wrist until it’s bleedin’. I’m like fuckin’ panicking. I mean what the hell and she’s like tearin’ at her tits… and yet her mercies were many. She stopped as if she was understandin’ me and our situation. After all, her world is really small like special school, the Frosty Kone drive-thru, Jane, TV, piano, her private stash, her comic books that she cut out and rearranged into new stories and a pair of eyes that no one else would’ve known what to do with. I am suddenly not walkin’ on air. I am carryin’ the weight of a whole life that don’t know where to go. I know she been with the fat-fingered men of esteem around here. Men with careers I wouldn’ mind seein’ them lose. I know she’s fiddled with their car radios and she’d learned to drink from strange containers of high proof shit. She’s been fair game and I ain’t playin’ their game. She’s just starin’ at me like she’s thinkin’ I’m some actor – the one she’s seen a hundred times in reruns. I mean I had to look up his name: Sandy Ricks, from the old Flipper TV show. I don’t really see it but then I ain’t lookin’ through her special eyes.”

We’re parked in the lot of Slush Fund because he’s thirsty and he knows a chick that works there.

“You want one?”

“No thanks.”

“Best slush in the county. But what do I care.” Here I get another chance to figure out a whole life from the – for now – still life of his dash and front seat area: paper bags, weird magazines with things in blue ink circled, straws, roach clip, a Wring Neck Psychonautics Scream Metal CD box. He’s back with a Caribbean Coco-coffee Slush. and he’s got as much of a smile as he can manage these days. Proud like he made the Slush himself.

“You don’ know what yer missin’… So Connie’s yankin’ me by the sleeve to the other side of the flagstone shed built there by farmers when they first cleared the land in the 1800s. Yep. And here I noticed somethin’: off to the right, six or so shed stones not covered with moss and tangles of ivy. No indeed, they look like new stones with some recent chips and scratches. And I’m like this ain’t right. I touch the stones and she’s whimpering and a song, she’s like half singing it, half crying snatches of the song: “‘Pleeease lock me away’ … in her mixed word salad.

“‘World Without Love,’ Peter & Gordon, big hit in 1964. ‘Lock me away / And don’t allow the day / Here inside, where I hide with my loneliness…’”

“You know shit, don’t you?”

“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m making it up.”

“Maybe I’m makin’ this whole story up too.” He had a decidedly weird grin like he was worried that either I would not believe him or that he was suddenly going to doubt his own words. Words being what they are, designed to misguide, to make us believers in the unbelievable.

“What we seen in the dark, this squinty light, was so real as you are kickin’ your own ass cuz you can’t believe what your eyes are seein’. It’s like the world is set up to confuse us. And here it was: I was fuckin’ confused. It’s like when we went to the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg in like 6th grade and you’re in the Civil War field hospital witnessin’ an operation on a war casualty, like yer walkin’ through a dream and you’re tellin’ yourself ‘it’s a dream.’ But you always think like maybe it’s only a dream that I’m tellin’ myself it’s a dream. And, no, I don’t do a lotta drugs – no more… I’m pryin’ at the stones with my blade and thought Connie was going to burst. As the six stones are pried loose I hear her howlin’ as we both peer in. And there before my very eyes I see two small, pale skeletons huddled together, bones collapsin’ into one pile. The position of the bones – first of all, are they human?! – are like a resignation of our fate. But what kinda fate are we talkin’ about here? Skulls lookin’ a little bashed in, but what do I know? I’m seein’ gruesome smiles frozen across their jaws. Maybe they were just kittens somebody wanted to get rid of. And Connie’s there mumblin’ in tongues, somethin’ like: ‘Now ey layg mesef down to sleepy…’ and then I’m suddenly thinkin’: Harold, his disappearance, what he knew, what he might have been up to. Had the bodies been carried here? Or followed? Or lured here and then shoved in and starved? Were they Connie’s siblings. Less than 5 years old? Human? Was Connie – who knows!? – involved in all this? Had they ever been officially reported as missin’? Was somebody still grievin’? I shook Con lightly thinkin’ this maybe’ll shake somethin’ loose. But suddenly her body goes limp like she thinks I’m finally going to take her. And now it’s suddenly gettin’ dark, sun plungin’ like sunfish in a dark lake. and then we’re headin’ back home and Jane’s asleep on the couch, the kind of sleep of someone whose workin’ two jobs and suddenly the body won’t go no more. I send Connie up to bed and as I’m turnin’ to leave – I got me a life too you know – she hands me a wad of paper. I knew it was a secret folded wad and I’m out through the screen door as if the screen door is like this wobbly screen between then and now, between OK and wow. I’m now back on U.S. 12, near the huge car dealership run by Fuckhead, the lot’s drenched in amber light, I stop the car and unfold the wad of paper. The lined page ripped from a spiral notebook displays a furious flurry of crude crayon figures. Like some weird pictogram, you know, like done by some really ancient culture. Maybe I am seein’ a man, a man bent in half. Maybe he’s carryin’ a heavy sack or something wrapped in an old coat over his shoulder. In the upper-left-hand corner, a girl in pigtails tied up in orange ribbons is jumpin’ rope near the sun. In the lower-right-hand corner I see this hump or mound of six or seven grey spots with red dripping from them and the name of a boy misspelled – PHLLHLLIPLIP – wrapped around the mound of grey spots – or maybe they’re stones! FUCK!”

“I notice you’re puttin’ it to the floor, like 80 in a 30 zone!” I observe as he presents a look that he may have copped from lyrics by the Doors or Slipknot or Napalm Death. “BAM!” And he lets out an indescribable scream that he held for two or three minutes: a mix of ancient call, grinding gears, high RPMs, a poltergeist death growl, a pig squeal, or a car out of control riding – sparks and all – the guardrail around a bend, right side of the car up in the air. It’s like blood was about to pour out of his face. “With your eyes shut, listenin’ to Chester fuckin’ Bennington – Linkin Park, YEA! – and you hold it until you begin to upchuck visions of the overturned god and you break on through to the other side. “Shock Me Shakti! Where’s the fuckin’ CD when you need it?! FUCK! Gimme a dose of Voidness of All Things NOW! Shock Me Shakti!!!”

He lets me off in East Berlin, in the lot of a small PA wayside truckstop. Maybe it was called the Southern Belle or something.

“So we’re still in PA.”

“Sure. It take a long ride to get to the end of the world and on the other side of the end is just more hell after all.” His eyes the size of two raw-toothed circular saw blades just spinning with PowerMaster energy, itching to get back on the road with a smile you rarely see on anybody except somebody about to lovingly pull a trigger.

“Ohio, you mean.”

“Yea, that’s the joke. Just when you’re thinkin’ you’re leavin’ hell, comes the next circle of hell and that be named Ohio. I guess that’s the punchline.”

I’m sitting there in a booth, swirling ice cubes in a big plastic glass, staring out at the sheerest pink hint of a nightgown 5 AM dawn. The trucker couple in the booth next to mine are arguing diets. The man stirred his coffee. Stirred it some more. More agitated like he’s grinding up bone with a mortar and pestle. Her smudged make-up only getting worse as she does damage control with the outside of her pinkie. He’s so blasted and tired he’s not even annoyed with her any more. You’d think – but a second later he’s throwing the coffee spoon at her face.

I realize then and there that we are all guilty of trying to convince ourselves that sophistication or primitive behavior or acting “real”, more “real” than others will somehow save us from all the ideas that eat away at us. And the longer I sat there quietly, the more it seemed like I was going to ask if I could eat the leftovers off their plates, join the world they’d prepared for me. “Cigarettes is better’n any fuggin’ diet I ever heard of.”

Finally the waitress with her too-young-to-be-so-old demeanor brought my scrambled eggs, home fries, rye toast, coffee, orange juice, 2 packets of ketchup on the side, salt and pepper… She dropped the plate with a certain verve, which half spun the plate so that I was reminded of a figure skater or something. Anyway, everything I needed at that moment in time was right there within reach.

-bart plantenga


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