My face is cold. A salty breeze numbing my cheeks. I have the black book in my lap, and a pen in my hand. Sunlight casts through black water, a murky aquamarine spreading its roots towards the edge of my boat. I’m awake. Alone. Writing.
To my right across the dark ocean, another in a rowboat appears, some distance away. To my left another, closer. A head-wrapped figure. The current picks up and I feel the tug of the shore. Distant boats appear, city lights shine our paths in ripples. Six more boats.
Piers line the city like gnarled teeth. My boat taking me to land. I turn words upside down in my head. A brown mist slithering across my vision.
“What is that, Japanese?” I hear a man shout.
Four heads arch upwards. The sign flashing from the motel standing on the mountain across the bay. Black helicopters bounce up and down off its roof.
“So that’s where they come from.” I hear another male voice say. I can’t make out any faces only silhouettes, shadows.
“No. It’s Chinese.” The woman next to me shouts back.
“Afrokyo script.” Man with a southern drawl says.
“What’s it say?”
“Eats. Checks cashed. Bingo Wednesdays. Eats. Checks cashed. Bingo Wednesdays, over and over.”
“Not much to go on.” I hear from the last voice within earshot.
High pitch cries and screams going up tempo mingle with the lapping waves and mix with an uneasy feeling as the boat drifts towards the piers of the city.
“Those must be gods.” The man in a head-wrap says, pointing to the four statues jutting from the mountain’s embankment. Green ooze drizzles down each of their alabaster beards, dripping in shiny dollops into the water.
“Those aren’t cargo ships.” A woman says as the structures begsn to climb like skyscrapers around me. The light disappears.
“Battleships.” I say to myself. It bounces off the metal hulls, echoes.
“Where in the fuck are we?” A black man’s voice tremors.
“Does the water look black to y’all?” A southern drawls.
A subterranean sideshow replete with freaky fish and extrasensory plants slither in glowing gray jelly. Errant hands, tentacles, and fish-hooks baited with moldy catfish sandwiches and used pornographic magazines flap into my tub. I kick them out, slime on my boots.
“Let’s get out of these boats,” one of the women says.
“Think I see a park over there,” a slender shadow pointing to a gutted field.
My boat floats under the pier, knocking the dock legs with wood-to-wood squeak, settling next to a large metal ladder and then resting. Climbing up, I stand with four strange looking people, all wearing satchels.
“Not again!” asks a guy in plaid slacks, a jeans jacket, tennis shoes, and an aviator’s helmet.
“Your first trip?” An Asian woman with a tight bun of hair wearing in a short, leather kimono top and loose fitting short pants and lace up boots, asks me.
“I guess so,”
“It’s alright,” says a slender head-wrapped brother in white robes. He laughs.
“Name’s Billy Chang,” Asian guy with Bruce Lee hair and a Texas drawl, shakes my hand. Firm grip and inviting smile. Three piece suit and space boots. He knows Afrokyo script, whatever that is.
Ahead of us, I see two kneeling figures up the cobblestone path.
The rusted sign reads Emperor Franz Joseph Park. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with attacking eagles on their shoulders ride on top of the stone arch at the entrance. The grounds around the arch littered with decapitated heads.
“Is this Elvis?” Another woman dressed in an oxblood leather vest, matching pants and split toed shoes, holds up the head by the pompadour.
“Look, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, River Phoenix.” The guy in a leather jacket and derby hat kicks through the heads.
“Kurt Cobain, Princess Di,” the ninja holds up the pale, blue-green head. Her red-rimmed eyes only showing white. Green bile trickling from the corner of her mouth.
“This is some fucked up shit right here.” She lets the head plop and roll back with the others.
Leaves swirl on the winding path into the park. Cannonballs stacked in triangular heaps spot its curves and spread across brown grassed hills.
The first street. Old men shamble into brownstones and residential hotels. Through the bare windows, I see them lining up for showers and toilets. Others sit in lobbies smoking cigarettes, watching TV, and playing Chinese checkers. Boxes of freak videos, loose AA batteries, ladders, and wade boots rest at their feet.
A small parade comes toward us from the far side of the street. Old black men pushing shopping carts filled with paper, tubing, balls of aluminum and god-knows-what. The leader of this parade a small older man in a wool big apple hat three sizes too big. Beating a bass drum tugging a cart filled with parched manuscripts, stacks of broken violin scrolls, and a big black burlap sack, he raises a hand to stop the procession.
“Rhythm travelers?” He asks, squinting at us from beneath his hat.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“UAnyscape?” He wiped his hand on his coat before extending it to me.
“Anyscape?” I shook it.
“Molecular Anyscape? Perfect Nigger? Ellisonic? Baraka.”
“Not that -.
“Where are we?!?” The pilot bleats.
“Paris. I’m Fenna.”
“You finna what?”
“Just Fenna,” he smiles with pristine, white teeth. They seem to glow.
“Paris?” I ask.
“Hakim,” the brother in robes jumps in front of me and bows, his long beard almost touching the ground. “It is an honor to be greeting you to your health and the eternal radiant constellation of water and light.”
The guy in the nice hat thrusts his way past the genuflecting man and grasps Fenna’s hand, “How ya doin’?” He shakes the old man’s hand. First fingers up, then fingers down, and then fingers linked while they hug. He never said his name.
“Red,” the ninja smiles at Fenna placing her right palm to his right forearm and his to hers.
“Dreaming, dreaming, ” I hear the pilot mumbling to himself. Huffing, he crunches his round face into a ball. Holds his breath. Blows the air through his nose. Opens his eyes and says, “shit.”
“Are you dreaming?” I ask him.
“Dreaming,” I look at him, “it’s the only logical explanation.”
“Uh-huh. I have this dream all the time.” His voice low, afraid. “I find myself on one of those boats, coming into a shore someplace. No matter what I’m doing, I find myself hear.” He taps himself on the side of the head like Ransome, “It’s like I got a knot in my brain.”
I find that we have begun walking. We have joined the procession of rag-men, trudging along the crooked path into the ghastly orange city.
“And you’re sure you’re dreaming”
“Make no mistake about it, man,” Fenna, laughing. “You ain’t asleep. You just waking up.”
He smiles with teeth as large as dominos. “Call me Canine,” extends his paw.
In the center of the park, something looking like it was once a merry-go-round on wheels. The horses and turtles ripped from their gyrating poles, hanging with sharp metal edges. A wooden sign rests at the foot of the carousel saying, “LEST WE FUGGIT. WE WILL NOT BE STOPED!”
The Second street. Fenna beat the drum. A slow thud-thud-thud, matching our footsteps. We fall in cadence, sizing each other up from the corners of our eyes, watching the park widen and darken, grow claws, towering over us, blocking light, pulsing with the drum. Red-brick. Prison towers. Boxed red brick. Gutted windows. Chicken wire. Dirty curtain rods. Tunnel path. Rising high. Crane neck. In front, above.
“The medicine men of the Indigenous Australian don’t believe there’s a difference between the dream-world and the non-dream-world.” The ninja to my left was saying.
“I kind of believe that,” I say.
“I’m Red,” she says.
“Hey,” I say. My stomach flutters.
“You look like you been here before.”
“Yeah, I suppose I do.”
“Ever been to Paris?”
“Naw, but this ain’t Paris. Reminds me of something Ishmael Reed would write back in the day.”
“I knew it.”
“Not where you from, but what you do.”
“You know, where we get the word ‘frumpish’?. Frum?”
“You calling me frumpish?”
“Sorta.” I fall out of step with her. Squint. Shorter than me, a lace domino covering half of her round face.
“Hebrew: book-ish. What do you know about this place?” She starts walking again.
“But you’ve been hear before?”
“I just read a book.”
“You don’t know The Works yet,” nodding her head.
Amber streetlights. Dot the corners. Casting only light and shadow. Shapes of people. Form the far horizon. Man on my left, tall and brown. Black tuxedo jacket with the word “bones” embroidered on the back reaches into the sack in his wheel-barrow and puts on a shiny top hat. He is smiling through a dusty handle-bar mustache, air whistling from a gap between his large, white teeth. He straightens his swollen hunter green tie. The stout man in front of me, removes his dirty bandana, showing off his conched hair, smooth and glistening like oil on mink, and wipes his mouth before stuffing it in his pocket. There is music playing in the distance. Loud music. Bones taps me on the shoulder and hands me a shiny black leather coat. With a warmth of acceptance, I put it on. Just my size. A far-off roar spills up the street. We walk faster.
Wearing a pair of dungarees and white saddle shoes, a tow-haired twelve-year-old girl sits Indian style on top of a hot pink 1945 Thunderbird, brand new. She’s playing with a pearl-handled switch-blade until she sees the procession of ragmen, and begins jumping up and down on the car, denting the bulbous hood screaming, “Dey’s heah! Dey’s heah! Dease muthafuckas! Dey’s heah! Goddamn! Goddamn!” She leaps off the car into the street and running a few steps ahead of us until she disappears around the corner. Fenna smiles at us newcomers, while the energy of our procession bristles around me.
We turn the corner. The first thing I see is as ad for Pucker-up Ass-Cream, “PUCKER-UP! FIX YO ASS!”
A switch had been flicked, the city was doused in dusty light. The windows and doorways had exploded with people, filling the sidewalks with cheers and whistles. Men waving their fedoras and straw-hats and the women wiping tears with monogrammed hankies. Rosie-cheeked cherubs dance at open fire-hydrants, eat ice-cream cones on stoops, rough each other up, drink Mad Dog, fuck in alleys, shine .38 caliber pearl-handles, salve scars with rubbing alcohol, do cartwheels, ride bikes, knife an old man, and pick-pockets just below eye level.
“Look at dem bootiful chirren,” says the man behind me of wiping mist from his eyes. “Dem youguns growing up mighty fine…mighty fine.”
She’s drinking from a black rubber hose, and strands of translucent bangs plaster her sweating forehead. Blue eye shadow and black mascara running down her face, streak the orange of tan-in-a-bottle, making her face look like a clown on meth.
Confetti flies from the windows above, a throbbing bass-line shakes my body. I shield my eyes from flames as we pass an overturned police car. The sky, so yellow from a distance, is red with neon flame. I can’t tell if it’s sun or the giant televisions hovering over us at every angle. On the screens: a close-up of a slim blonde girl in a paper hat with a giant hot-dogs speared through the middle. She’s drinking from a black rubber hose, and strands of translucent bangs plaster her sweating forehead. Blue eye shadow and black mascara running down her face, streak the orange of tan-in-a-bottle, making her face look like a clown on meth.
“WHAT UP! WHAT UP BITCHES,” the girl’s voice booms through the buildings, IT’S YO GURL YO GURL AND WE FEELIN’ THIS SHIT UP IN THE SUITE! DRANKIN THAT HENN-ESS-SAYYY BITCHES! The camera pulls back to show her, dressed in dingy white hotel robe, a mustard-splotched bustier embroidered with diamond flies that trail their flight in gold leading up and around her giant breast and down to her ripped and sagging pink sweatpants. She starts doing the running man on zebra print carpeting. FUCK YEAH! WHAT YOU KNOW ‘BOUT THIS HERE?!? WHAT YOU KNOW?!? Breathless, she stops dancing long enough to tilt the hose up to her lips and take a guzzle. She wipes off her mouth with the back of her hand, “KNOW ‘BOUT THAT SHIT…KNOW ‘BOUT IT!” She drops down to her stomach and starts doing a painful looking worm. “SHIT…SHIT…HOW …WE…DO…PLAYA…!” Her body doesn’t lift from the ground once. She grunts and two shirtless men come from off-screen to help her up. “FUCK DAT!” With some effort, she steadies herself on the arms of her escorts, wobbles, and projectile vomits on one of them. “PARTY!” She screams, and tilts the hose back to her mouth, the thick liquid running down the side of her gaunt face. PARTY!” She screams,
“AND NO PANTIES IN MY FUCKIN PARTY! NO MUTHAFUCKIN PANTIES GODDAMMIT! WHOOOOOO! PAAAAARRRRRTAAAAAAYYYY-WHOOOOOOOOO-NO PANTIES-PARTY!PAAARRRRTTTYYYY-BITCHES!! ALL YOU HATERS OUT THERE, I SEE YOU BITCHES HATIN’ ON ME ALLA FUCKIN’TIME! IMONNA DO ME AND YOU GONNA DO ME AND DO ME GOOD! THIS MY SHIT! MINE! YA’LL ALL UP IN DIS! IT’S ALL ME AND YOU FUCKIN FUCKS BET RECOGNIZE! GONNA PARTY LIKE IT 1955- WHOOOOOOOO!” She raises her arms over her head and stumbles off-screen. A picture of a chicken three piece with fries and a biscuit served in a giant purse with a golden frankfurter print replaces her. “GET THE CHIPPY’S ‘ THAT’S TOXIC’ ULTRA-LUX MEAL: $11.95 FOR A LIMITED TIME!” A heavy-voiced announcer adds, “CHIPPYS. WHAT YOU GONNA DO? COOK?” The crowd cheers, the bass-heavy beat overtakes the streets, emanating from giant speakers that I can’t see. What I can see is that everybody in the crowd is packing. What I thought were fire-works turns out to be guns popping from the welcoming crowd. Uzis, AKs, 38s, 44s, boom-click welcome.
“Magical!” Canine Pilot ran up from behind me. Grabbing at me pointing to the screen. “Did you see that babe up there?” Choking on his ecstasy, his eyes rolling to the back of his head and his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth; he yanks at my shoulder and the next thing I know he has me by the arm and is pulling me with all of his force from the parade. I pull back, cutting his run with my left foot. He falls.
“Offa me!” I say.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” rising and dusting himself off. “Come with me over here, man. I gotta see this! Please!” Marking Fenna’s cadre, I nod. I begin to follow Canine through the sparkling throng.
He runs to a shop that has a giant poster of the blonde TV giantess. She looks the exact same as she did on the screen. Smeared make-up and all, the hose tilted up to her lips, head tilted back. The Pilot brings his hands up to his mouth, and shakes. “Who do you suppose SHE is?” Tears began to run down his jowls.
“Look at HER! A vision, a queen, my every desire in one angelic, accessible package. I know why I’m hear. I really know why I’m hear! It’s HER! I’ve been searching for HER my whole life, and at last I’ve found HER!”
The window was loaded with merchandise bearing her face and body in various poses and situations, some of them compromising or illicit to say the least. Books, posters, coffee-mugs, pens, magazines, long-playing vinyl and 45s, Super-8 reels, bumper-stickers, hats, candy, t-shirts, jackets, cigarettes, matchbooks, lighters, flasks, bongs, bibles, votive candles, vibrators, quilts, energy drinks, make-up, instant-tan, giant purses, everything with pink backgrounds flecked with little golden hot-dogs.
“Gotta go inside,” breathless, looking at me, in he goes.
“Hey nigga,” I hear a small voice say. I look down to a pudgy little white boy in a bowl hair-cut dressed in knickers and a half-coat, wielding a shiny gun. “Gimee yo’ goddamn bag!”
“You little bastard,” I push him down and put my knee in his little chest. “Gimee that gun!” His hand quickly releases the piece. “What the fuck wrong with you?!? Pulling a gun on a grown ass man?!? I could cap you right now! As a matter of fact, break yourself! Break yourself little man! Gimmee your shoes! Run your Buster Browns Font Elroy!” I shake the nickel plate around his button nose.
“YOU AIN’T SPOSED TA DO DAT!” He screams. “YOU AIN’T SPOSED TA! HALP! HALP! HE AIN’T PLAYIN’ FAIR! HALP ME SUMBODEEEEE!”
I look up and see a fat woman in a poodle skirt pointing at me. One porcine hand against her jaw, her mouth in an oval. “What’s he doing to that poor boy?!? Somebody stop him!”
“HALP ME! HALP!”
Two over-sized white men dressed in overalls turn their heads, scanning the crowd for me. I tuck the gun into my new coat and run.
I bolt through the crowd with the milkmen on my ass. A clown driving a mini-car hits me as I run into the street. I fall and slide for what feels like three feet.
“Hey Bukka!” He screams from the window, his rainbow wig sliding off the side of his head, the white face paint smearing with sweat, “Look what you made you do!” It don’t hurt much.
“Hey you!” I hear one of my pursuers yell, “Apprehend that fellow!” Looking back, I notice that they both have handle-bar mustaches. How could I have missed that? I get up and skip to the curb and trip, then across the littered street into a blind-alley. I don’ t hear anyone behind me, but I feel them. Sideways through the crowd, but there they are, huffing and waving their hammy fists in the air. I take off at full speed, and lay in the cut between two buildings. They run right past me. I step from the shadow, and a bag of darkness breaks over my head, pinning my right arm back, my left flailing, then floating, lifting…