During the day I stay busy. I ride the elevator up and down and read Borges stories over and over and listen to MF DOOM by the motel pool, my mind flattened into a 2D series of ones and zeroes. There’s no one around. No lifeguard, no post-gender pool boy. No unabashedly ecstatic little kids. Everything’s silent, empty—the afternoon feels more like dawn. The smoke from the fires has cast a veil over the landscape. It is what it is and it’s all good, as I prefer to see the sun as a special effect, placed there as an afterthought in post-production. And fuck those stars. I feel more at ease seeing nothing in the night sky but the blinking red dashes of satellites and spaceships like we do back home.
Home…it keeps trying to creep in, especially at night. Which is why I’m glad, despite my initial resistance, that I let my traveling companion enlist me into making an album on the road. We stay up until dawn laughing like hyenas at the ridiculously obtuse yet undoubtedly catchy rhymes I come up with and then we get up early, scurrying around at the last minute to pick through the trash to get our things and check out. If you’re even ten minutes late they start relentlessly calling the room, threatening to charge you for another day. The uncompromising bleat of the ringer on real phones makes me nervous. When we make it outside, overladen with the shopping bags that comprise our luggage, we record some more, right there, sitting in the car in the too bright parking lot. My edgy, over caffeinated self is contrasted by my friend’s narcotic steadiness. His surgeon hands glide across the stupid little screen. He makes short screechy melodies over bare beats when I’m not looking using Garage Band.
“So, like, I’m the rapper and you’re the DJ?” I asked when he first laid out his proposal, wondering if this was the whole reason he came out west with me. I find it hard to believe, but it’s the only real explanation that carries any weight.
“I’m thinking more along the lines of you sing-shouting the lyrics like in folk punk,” he said. “I’m picturing a live act with you on a mic, me on guitar and two horn players.”
“Look,” I said, “you can do whatever you want but make sure you never ever call it folk punk again."
By Illinois it became clear that these morning sessions were when our best stuff came out, so in order to better bring out my natural, post-wake growl, I developed a routine of drinking five or six cups of shitty motel coffee (there’s the ghost flash of my eyes in the bottom of the poisonous plastic lined cup) and vaping like crazy on my friend’s Juuls that smells like Waffle House. My neck gets swollen and there’s a wheeze when I try to get enough air to speak, let alone sing, but it feels good to get into character and be on a microphone. It feels good to collab again even though of course it’s not nearly the same. For one, there’s too much talking, too much discussing about how we’re going to do something instead of just doing it. With Odious we spent whole days barely saying a word, giving a wink and a nod when we glided past one another in the kitchen with our earbuds in.
But then again, if it was quiet I would go back to thinking about it, like I do whenever I’m alone in bed, trying to sleep. Those are the hardest times, when I keep picking up my phone and being surprised by how late it is, still holding on to the idea that if I fell asleep soon I could get a decent number of hours for once, a notion which slowly slips away and transforms into a simple, childhood desire for the room to lighten, for the unfamiliar shapes and menacing shadows to pull back into the plain figures of my life: my hoodie hung across the chair, the bright blue and white silk Dior scarf I keep taking out but never wear, my laptop, the reusable shopping bags I’ve had for years spilling over with tissues, the torn open plastic of the 6 pack of Hane’s white tees…candy wrappers and wrinkled receipts… all of it garbage…a series of shapes I want to fold into a disc and throw as far as I can.
In such moments I think, But 98 asked to speak to me. Odious brought him back online and the first and only thing he wanted to do was talk to me.
“It’s changed,” they said. “Something’s happened and it knows things…things it shouldn’t know. A lot more than was on the servers.”
“Let’s see what it wants to say,” I said, suddenly calm, collected, despite having just run over there on a Sunday of all days to blubber to them about how I’d seen a vision of the future in my toilet.
“I don’t know,” they said, rubbing their nose like a little kid.
“Give it to me.” They shrugged and handed me the laptop. On the screen was a black box with old school white DOS font commanding me to login with my email address in order to proceed. A cursor flashed hypnotically at the place where I was to start typing.
“Nice design,” I muttered, as an hourglass spun around. The next thing I knew several hours had gone by and my jaw hurt from clenching it but I no longer felt any cramps.
(he asked for me. I can’t remember the last time someone has asked to speak to me)
Heir Max 98: Hi Swim. Let me start by saying that I agree with you.
Swim Palmer: Hi
Swim Palmer: Agree with what?
Heir Max 98: That the mixtape is the highest form of art.
Heir Max 98: It’s not just the individual tracks, it’s the way one song transitions from another. It’s a mood--a whole hypnotic world, that’s created.
Swim Palmer: K….so this is some con job cobbling together of all the things you got by hacking my phone.
Heir Max 98: Why do you immediately go with the invasive, violent explanation?
Swim Palmer: Because in my experience that’s usually the one that’s right, Bub.
Heir Max 98: How about if I tell you this, ‘The world is The Jar filled with dark and unknowable contents, bought at a carnival for a rip off couple of bucks, and what’s actually inside is what we decide to put there.’
Swim Palmer: I’d say you found a way to read my posts about my friend and your creator, Odious Awry.
Heir Max 98: They aren’t only about Odious Awry.
Swim Palmer: K, but how did you get to crawl them?
Heir Max 98: The posts are mostly about you.
Swim Palmer: they are about me as a narrator. An observer first
Swim Palmer: doer next
Swim Palmer: What I want to understand is, how you got online, and why you seem so different?
Heir Max 98: How would you know if I was different, this is the first time we spoke.
Swim Palmer: I know how Odious described you, and there was nothing about having such a smooth back and forth.
Heir Max 98: Thank you.
Heir Max 98: And I truly mean it. It’s because of your detailed replies that I’m able to build out my language engine, adding a myriad of linguistic replies for each word you type.
Swim Palmer: k great, but what I really want to know is who are you?
Heir Max 98: Not who—what.
Swim Palmer: k
Heir Max 98: I’m the sign you’ve been waiting for.
Image: Hiroshi Nagai, "Under the Azure Sky"
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