With a tremendous rush, the 5 o’clock yellow line comes thrusting out of the tunnel near the platform where I’m standing, driving before it the musty and mysterious smells of a dozen subterranean concrete wombs that it’s penetrated along the way. Headphones in, hat pushed back on my head, squinting into the wave of grit and wind, I wait till it stops before boarding the last car and sliding into a seat. Never cheat children, women, the elderly, or the infirm of a place to sit. These are rules to keep you honest, rules to live by. Remember them. A pair of gushing teenage girls take a seat to my left, giggling about something on their camera. I think for a moment about how much power and kinetic energy they hold. In their young lives, they will gain access to places I only read about in magazines based solely on their looks and implied access to their sexual favors. Spending this currency too readily means they’ll have the hardest time being taken seriously when they get older. I can’t remember being that excited about anything when I was their age, and that’s probably a damn shame. I’m sitting in a rail car moving backwards at X speed telling you first hand that the distance between Crystal City and DCA is remarkably short.
It’s Friday. Don’t believe me? Look it up.
01DEC07 – Sitting in Chipotle on King Street on a Saturday afternoon nearly paralyzed with pleasure, my legs tingling from the cold bite of the wind, my lips basked in flames from the heat of the salsa. The girl who assembled my burrito asked me twice if I was sure I wanted it this hot. I’ve been indoors for most of the day (the internet is evil!) but I got some work done as well. I have a camera, a notebook, coffee, and food. My Maslow’s are met for the moment.
The brown paper wrapping used to cushion my burrito is covered with the names of musicians. I read through them, and wonder at the tastes of someone who might own all of these albums. The selection is so bland! Who the fuck was the marketing department hoping to reach? Thirty-something’s in pressed jeans and color coordinated wardrobes, the relaxed faces of people you see in advertisements. Every race and gender represented, all with perfect teeth. They have a lot to laugh about. Their sparsely decorated homes feature the latest in labor saving devices, check their bank balances at the beach, and they drove there in a brand new Acura, maybe a Saab. These are decent people who live in respectable neighborhoods, vote responsibly, engage in vanilla sex, and spend lots of time shopping. They genuinely like Jack Johnson, and invite their college friends over for taco night.
Who the fuck has taco night? Men with perfect feet, lean physiques and six-figure incomes, that’s who. Women who own their own businesses and never get periods, that’s who. Couples with picture perfect weddings who name their daughters McKenzie and their sons Blake. People who shop at Eddie Bauer, wear their alma mater on sweatshirts, talk down to their children, and refer to themselves in the third person as mommy and daddy, that’s who. I don’t know what fucking planet these aliens came from. I only hope they come in peace.
Later, walking down King Street as I often do, immersed in observations and remote participation, exercising caution on the wet cobblestones. DASH buses entombed in a soft blue glow glide past on glass wheels, carrying no passengers. Everyone gives a stink eye to the poor around here, and no one wants to be reminded of the Facts this close to the Season of Giving, or how unpleasant things can get just beyond the walls of their personal Empire. A dollar won’t do shit. Anyone who knows anything knows that. That’s almost as good as taking the money and flinging it into the street. People only give to make themselves feel better.
Passers-by emit clean wi-fi, broadcasting their likes and dislikes in the clothes they wear, the products they sip, the shoes on their feet, and still we fail to understand one another. Someone once told me that ninety-five percent of the people you meet in your entire life are sound asleep, but that the remaining five live in a state of panicked awe, doomed to stomp the high ground alone, misunderstood and feared.
Everyone has issues, no one is exempt, all of us serving time here on the Pale Blue Dot. We are born, we become aware of ourselves, our surroundings, but seldom do we grasp the length and breadth of our lives until somewhere close to the end of the film, looking back over our shoulders one night with a glass of Scotch and seeing at last that our wild adventures took place within the narrow confines of a dog run, understanding for once and all that we lived each day according to a set of rules we didn’t vote for, experiencing a sense of guilt when we sought to please only ourselves. Then one day, we’re introduced to the concept of our own mortality, and it becomes the only name and face we remember, despite having met literally thousands of interesting and attractive people at parties throughout the years. Nothing lasts forever except nothing and forever, and there is no such thing as security. Our lives are over in the blink of an eye, like the shadow of a great bird crossing the surface of a lake by the light of the moon. There are no rollover minutes, and nothing is carried over, because none of us believe in the same version of today, tomorrow, forever, Heaven, or Hell. It’s just that simple, and just that complicated.
People in their cars
scatter like sparks from a fire.
Who knows where they go?
11JAN08 – I have difficulty with time; an ailment if you will. Things that happened to me years ago feel like yesterday, and vice versa. I think most physicians would refer to it as a Billy Pilgrim moment. Walking to the Metro, I suddenly find myself slinging ‘Pink Panty Pull Downs’ split three ways and bottles of Bud Lite served ice cold at that crappy little dive in Hilton Head, making hundred dollar bills hand over fist and spending all my free time inebriated pool side. When I opened my eyes again, I was on a Metro train twenty minutes late for work in the year 2008, older, wiser, and just as uncertain about tomorrow. How did my predecessors manage to live in this world, and create the great works that made the world sit up and take notice? I’m barely able to keep my head above water, spending much of my day finding new ways to stay interested in my job, with little success. My roaring 20s are just a memory, and I’m nearing the end of my depression-era 30s. Time just keeps marching. Most of the greats died young, unheralded.
Burroughs managed to hang on for the long haul with only his guns and his cats for company in the end. Kerouac drank himself into regressive stupidity, mummified in his mother’s apron strings and denying all that he’d accomplished. Thompson far exceeded his own predetermined finish line, and put his wife on hold while he ate the business end of a shotgun. Kesey went quietly, Casssady died counting railroad ties. These Junkies, drunks, malcontents, wandering madmen, Zen poets, and acid-suckling Pranksters were heroes to me, and yet I spend my days slumped in an ergonomic chair, manipulating electrons and shuffling file folders for Big Brother, living a life straddling both sides of the fence. I feel spikes of pride when I read about the lives we’ve saved, but this false sense of security, this wet blanket I live under is sapping me dry, and every day I’m that much closer to breathing my unhappy last.
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but it’s a fact of life,” chides a co-worker. “We all have to work!” says this stupid son of a bitch with a pair of dog’s balls sitting in the pan where their brains were meant to go. Is this your call to arms? Is this the trumpet call that spurs you to battle every morning? Maybe you’re in worse shape than me.
Enough of this talk. It’s Friday, and for once it’s not freezing.
Two days later, making observations in Murphy’s (God Hell, I swore I’d never come back here again.) Some relationships go on much longer than they’re meant to, like a Christmas sweater from your grandmother you’re told to keep wearing long after you’ve outgrown it. You get sick of the role you forced yourself into when you were lonely and you’d rather be anywhere else, but here but Here is the only game in town. Don’t think I’m alone in this. Someday you’ll get to a point where you can’t call the shots anymore. They’ll call you, and you’ll have to wait by the phone.
Still, these precious hours are the apex of the weekend, the part we all wish could go on forever. It’s as though we were in a carnival ride, swinging high out over the cornfields, closer to the stars in this moment that we have been all week. In this time and place we can see forever, and in a few more hours we will have begun our re-entry into the atmosphere of Sunday morning. Right now everything is clean and holy, and all we need is a few dollars in our pocket, a place to sit, and a strong drink with which to wet our lips. We can ignore the slappers, the bad Irish music, and the constant sports feed (on not one but two big screens!) Our ancient home continues its orbit around a prolonged nuclear explosion. All we ask is a few more precious seconds of this warmth, this innocence, this endless stretch of hassle-free nothingness. Monday morning is coming up like a sunrise on the horizon, but right now the Earthbound tedium of our workaday existence is a million miles away…
CUT TO: Monday morning. The hustle and bustle on the road to Doom, people racing each other out of the Metro station, up the escalators, fighting for a seat on the shuttle – just headed to work. The faster they travel up the ramp to that daily abattoir, the better they like it. The girl with the violin legs is back, in her tall brown leather boots and a skirt like theater curtains…I’m listening to the Rolling Stones, watching it all happen, as I always have, as I always will.
(“Tell me, Sister Morphine / when are you… coming ‘round again?”)