I was high and square, just like in the country song. It was my truest form and it had taken a long time to get it back. If you walk past the fun house mirror too many times you might stop seeing yourself at all.
I opened up my Nepalese hemp wallet and took out a pearlescent white credit card, one of my favorites from the collection, and slapped it on the counter.
“Anything my comrades need, mmmmk?” I said, winking at the scrawny miss something with the baby doll eyes and carved up blue hair.
“Sure,” they chirped.
They felt me—everyone could. I was so pure: buzzing from the yellow highway lines and all those crushed pills.
3 and MJ huddled together on one chair in front of a design station, which was empty like the rest of the store. I got that sea-sick feeling I sometimes get in plastic places. I went out for a smoke and stared at the water tower sticking out like a bone. I thought about all the people who made it and then all the other people who kept it filled with water and chemicals. I bet it was a nice feeling to be a part of something like that.
There are entire countries with no clean water to drink. There are people who don’t have any water at all.
When I came back the two of them were pulling poster-size prints from the oversized printer, giggling and slapping at each other’s hands. They froze as soon as they saw me. Posterized like their posters, I thought, and laughed. I turned as the door closed behind me with a sucking sound; the black bird that had been hanging with me on the sidewalk flapped its heavy wings.
With 3’s cherub cheeks and MJ’s perfect pink pout they were like commercials for life itself within the suffocating fluorescent glare of the empty ass Staples. Next door was a dark space with big X’s taped on the windows. And next to that a Vitamin Shoppe filled to the ceiling with potions, but not a human in sight.
I crouched in front of the two of them in my new relaxed and roomy athleisure wear. I made a square with my hands and pretended it was a camera lens.
When they were done printing, we picked up wheat paste and brushes from the hardware store where the man at the register stared unabashedly at MJ. I could feel the anger–it was right at the surface, where it had been already waiting for hours. She didn’t notice his beady brown eyes, so I took her hand and led her outside to the soft beige warmth of the Escalade that I had rented with a different card, one of Lil Mountain’s from back when he was still Jesse James. Somehow, miraculously, it went through. “Daddy always got the money somewhere,” I said. We pulled into the parking lot of the old hotel and got to work.
They used an empty (dairy) milk gallon jug to mix the paste with water on a stretch of blacktop behind the comically huge back fender of the Caddy. It was not for nothing that I got the exact kind of obscene luxury SUV that The Babies had been vandalizing around town, spray painting over an excellently cut stencil of gothic lettering that read: “Personal Freedom Machine”. They stuck a page-long manifesto under the windshield wipers that explained their philosophy, how they didn’t want to destroy property but the current moment necessitated it. The gentrified streets of these once factory towns were filled with transplanted NYCers, just last week we rolled through and watched as Cyndi’s crowd mocked their tramp chic. The leather trenches that hung like sacks; the strategically ripped jeans. That said, I could see myself in their whitened teeth and well-moisturized faces. We’re also from the city, I reminded The Babies, to which they responded with blank, hollow looks. Their recent experiments with ketamine often had them navigating post-verbal states. They just drifted here and there, doing things they'd seen in movies. But how could I blame them? You are the ones, I whispered.
As for me, I was so entranced by the car that I forgot everything else. Its immense size took over the road and became the dominant possibility--the only real thing. The landscape itself was changed in its tinted windows. Its hard, murderous strength was accented by soft comfort. The curve of the drink holder really did it for me. I blew silvery smoke over the pristine leather stitching and the buttons on the dashboard, blessing them, as I set up reminders for coffee breaks. “An hour and a half, that’s a good time to pull over, right?” I called back to 3 and MJ, assuming the two drivers would want to give their input, but they had nothing to contribute. Across the highway at the animal hospital a dog howled incessantly.
I'd never owned a car and hadn't understood the appeal until now. You're mine, I whispered to it. I knew it was a rental but I felt this to be true.
When MJ told me what happened everything got stripped down. It was over by the old wrought iron fence around the corner from The Watcher tree, with its big eyes bulging out of its trunk. She was smoking but it was hard because her cigarette had gotten wet in the sudden downpour that had left her soaked. He was good looking, a slender teenage guy with shoulder length wavy brown hair. Italian, maybe.
He asked for a cigarette. Only didn't call it a "smoke", he called it a ‘stogie’.
Then he asked if he could get a light. So MJ rummaged through her bag, hurrying because it felt like it might start raining again at any second.
We all take the rain like it’s no big thing but it is. I know that feeling, the sadness and the pressure on my back and in my sinuses. The feeling of being cold and wet and alone. We drove back to the hood and slapped the poster sized pix on the aluminum sided sides of all the houses except Cyndi’s. We had so many we pasted them across dumpsters and the sides of garages that hadn’t been used in years. Anywhere we thought it might be seen and we could get away with it.
But we were close–too close. I pictured her there, cutting hair and cleaning and singing her kooky nonsensical songs, all the while every single thing we did filled the back of her mind like puddles.
“Part of the art is learning how to manage all the substances,” she said, when we drank together the day before. Her lazy eye looked at me in the mirror and also behind me at the invisible things I’d dragged into the little room where she cut hair.
“That includes the cunny juice!” she screeched, slapping me on the shoulder and cracking up for the millionth time, her silver scissors lit up by the last rays of sun.
We had just finished pasting up the hood when an old dude none of us knew emerged from the side of the road. He came around the corner when no one was watching. Deja Vu, I said, which doesn't make sense but seemed right at the time. He had a long skinny bag on his back that I thought was a rifle but when I said this to 3 he just laughed and said, “It’s a fucking pool stick.” I nodded and watched as the dude came up to the passenger window. He tapped his white knuckle and asked through the half open window if what we were doing was art.
For a moment we didn’t say anything. MJ stared at him with her eyes narrowed as he came into light. I couldn’t tell if she recognized him or not–old dudes were rare in these parts and she was often out and about, while I usually kept to my spot at the top of the driveway, with my beach chair and my copy of The Blue Octavo Notebooks.
(If only I could write such short perfect things, or even better if I could just see it all and shut the fuck up.)
She moved her toothpick from one corner of her mouth to the other.“Nah,” she said. “That's a picture I took with my phone of the guy who grabbed my tits earlier today. I’m putting it up all over this retard campground so I can find him and smash his head in.”
She was so angry she was shaking. But only I could see it. She had a tube sock wrapped around her left hand, but she didn’t pull it up to reveal that it was stuffed tight with coins, quarters, mostly. Meanwhile 3 just looked at the ground, both of us put off by her use of the r-word.
She put down the sock with a thud and unrolled a copy of the poster so he could see it up close.
“Bitchin,” the guy said. He wore a pair of aviators with clip-on shades. They were flipped up, like a storefront open for business. His voice was soft in that low scratchy way due to a physical issue with the vocal cords, like cancer or Covid.
“I like the use of yellow,” he waved his hand over the top of the poster.
“Have you seen him anywhere?” I asked.
He leaned in and narrowed his eyes. At first I’d thought they were glassy but now I could see they were covered by a milky film.
“What is that, a kid running?”
“Yeah—you can’t tell?”
“No…well now I can.” He crossed his arms over his chest and stared deep into the pixelated aura.
“Have you seen him?”
“No, I haven’t. But this would look great in my basement bathroom. How much do you want for it?"
There was something about him. He didn’t seem to be from around here. I told the two Babies to sell it to him for kicks, but I don’t think they did. They don’t listen to me the way they used to. In fact, I think MJ chewed him out. But by then I was already taking a walk with my earbuds in. Listening to Yachty and chinning Fernet. I was in my feelings cuz I was off that shit. But like a sugar cube on a cold metal tray I remained pure, so pure.
Since we didn’t know if the kid was from Cyndi’s hood or the actual town, we took our remaining posters and smaller prints to the roadside burger spot, and handed them out the window of the Escalade. Adults and kids came up eagerly, mistaking us for promoters:
Who is this, what does it mean, they asked, while gigantic fans turned slowly over our heads.
When seen from up close, the larger posters disintegrated into colorful clusters. They reminded me of Seurat. But only in their abstraction. Unlike the master’s works they didn’t become something when I pulled back. MJ’s camera was garbage and the image was a photoshopped nightmare. Or maybe it was just my inability to gain the necessary perspective.
The more I looked the more I saw things that weren't there--like the blue faded shadows of the Twin Towers rising above the boy and the street, a perfect replica, once I was able to make it out it was like they had always been there.
“You know, a copier was the first machine I really got to know,” 3 said. We were sitting on the back bumper and smoking another blunt—a thick one that I’d rolled for the occasion.
3 turned to me when MJ went to take a piss.
“But seriously. How are you going to find him?” He was pleading with me to reveal a secret. “I mean…,” his voice trailed off and he looked at me, wanting answers.
“It’s simple.” I said. “We’re going to use publicity to smoke him out.”
The most important thing, I told myself, was that we upheld MJ's honor. I couldn’t get what she said out of my head, the blunt made it play in a loop, making it difficult to concentrate.
“He leaned over and ran a finger over my right tit. It was totally a matter of fact, like, no big deal. I looked up and literally just watched it happen. My shirt was soaked so everything was super well-defined. I looked at his face and he had this stupid, ugly, lustful expression…it was like, I don’t know....hungry…”
The pooled up anger sucked up all the blood and goo and other debris up from the depths of my brain. This pasteboard town is a big faker of a place, with gravel roads just barely filling in the holes. One time we rolled down what we thought was a street but turned into a hiking trail, with full-on creeks crossing over it. Nothing worked–there was no map or phone signal. We got stuck in a ditch and as we got out into the thick sticky mud to push all I could picture was Cyndi chatting away on her satellite phone with her crazy ass pits and hillbilly henchmen at her side. The Babies and I could disappear and no one would ever know we were here.
The next part was even worse–both what MJ said and how I got a flutter of excitement in my stomach when I could tell she was upset.
“I had that fucked up dream feeling as he pushed me back against the black metal fence and fully felt me up. His hands went up and down. His face was close to mine. There was a mole beneath his right eye.”
We left the burger spot and drove around aimlessly. Then I got a feeling—a jolt in my chest. It was the same one I got when I fell asleep suddenly in the tent. For a second I was gone, not just from my body, but from the voice inside my head. I realized 3 wasn’t the one driving the car. The lights turned green as we approached–as I approached. His foot was on the pedal but it was my hands on the wheel, I was the one making the car go. I was the one making the moment happen—I broadcast a power that emanated from somewhere else. I turned and looked back at MJ. She sat with her knees pulled up against her chest.
“Buckle your seat belt,” I told her.
Then I turned back to 3.
“Now, listen,” I said. “I’ll tell you which way to go and you follow.”
I pulled a fake Armani black skull cap over my eyes and leaned back. The pills made it like I’d swallowed sea water–my throat was dry and my stomach felt sick.
3 drove fast and then even faster but I’m telling you, he wasn’t really driving. Later on he said it was like a kiddie car, where things lit up and made sounds but none of the knobs were connected with anything, nothing worked. I became passive, regarding the situation in a manner of philosophical epoche.
I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. The double yellow line glowed like in Lost Highway…or the end of Terminator2, when Linda Hamilton purrs about the future that stretched out before us, dark and unknowable.
“Turn right,” I said, “ok, now left! Don’t slow down! Just do exactly as I say.”
“Where are we going?”
“Where the fuck do you think? We’re going to find him!” I shouted. I wasn’t angry, it just sounded like I was. I did that for effect, so that he’d be inclined to do what I said. My speech, actions and thoughts were aligned. They were part of a true purity–the kind Cyndi had talked about the other night–a spiritual purity that reveals everything as being one and the same, all objects, all people–anything you can think or feel.
“Gotta get off all those binaries, hon,” Cyndi said, as she reached down to shut off a blinking light on the alarm system dashboard.
“Out here we’ve gone beyond good and
Was this, I wondered, how Odious felt? Was that why they spoke so little, because the language didn’t fit what they really wanted to say?
“How are you going to know it’s him with your eyes covered?” 3 shouted.
“Shhhh. I’ve got a psychic hold on him.”
“She’s got inner vision, like Stevie Wonder,” MJ said, laughing. I could hear the coins clinking together in her sock as she raised it. My heart leapt at the sound!
I’m going to do it, I thought. I’m going to save her. It was at once so great and awful I could hardly stand it.
Image: John Tenniel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
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