Monday Morning March of the Ants, golden glow of sunrise fills the bus and makes me sneeze as we merge with traffic. Light shifts the spectrum like fingers on a slide rule, shadows sway…
The tired eyes of a hard-nose detective hang in the glare of a lamp in the interrogation room, the brightest bulb on the shelf. He strikes a match across my cheek, a move designed to break my confidence. Lights a cigarette. Drag, hold. Spins the chair, exhales the blue plume in my face. Let’s take this again from the top. “Talk! Where were you on the night of the 23rd? Explain that weird contraption we found in your apartment! We know you’re in cahoots with Aces Malone. You really wanna do time for that lunatic? We can offer you protection from his Mind Ray…”
“No, you can’t…” I snap awake. Damn. Talking out loud again. Suit across the aisle stares back at me.
I’ve heard it said that suits, respectable, pressed and upstanding, are the ones you really need to watch out for. Smug, the facial expression we can live without. Makes me wish I carried Mace on the regular, douse his sneer, paint his fine motorcar, his French counter top, his unfortunate tendency to reward his trophy wife with a bitter pimp hand for overspending. Gotta make tough talk when he’s with the guys, you know. The New Adventures of Smug At The Bottom: his brother calls from jail three times a week, pleading for money and begging for a job. “You’re a con, Ritchie. No one’s gonna hire you.” Smug’s 18-year-old malcontent gets sent home for fighting again, barely a man and flunking the 10th grade. Again. Smug lives on a steady diet of Hooters and a king-size syringe of Diet Cola, lips blood-flecked from missing his mouth. Smug comes home one day, finds the trophy took it all, emptied their savings and ran off with the gardener:
“You’ll love me, won’t you Paulo?”
Later, quitting time on the Metro. A snow globe of evil savages, scowling, sad-faced, pie-eyed, but determined. Remember to feed the animals with an open hand, lest you lose a finger. Times like this fill me with the kind of numb I thought I’d left behind in my 20s. There’s a limited supply of sandwiches on the lunch truck, so you gotta be hungrier than the vacuum seated next to you if’n you wanna eat.
The only solution is to do well enough to earn that quiet cabin in the middle of nowhere, and let the beasts devour one another in a peculiar barrage of flashing teeth and gunfire. News at eleven, twelve, and thirteen. Fifty-seven channels and nothing on.
Weird dream last night, something about “the numbers of the sun being wrong.” Perceive the sustained nuclear explosion in the sky as an engine needing calibration. Mechanic slides out on a wheeled solar flare, skin burned and smoking, pushes goggle up on his head, eyes white like boiled eggs. “Yep, here’s your problem. Gonna take me at least a week to fix, gotta order the part from Alpha Centauri. Have yourself a nice cold product placement while you wait.”
New day on the bus. Note to self, fall is the season of perish. The Earth is pulling energy back into itself. As hippy-trippy as it sounds, it’s a fact. It’s a system, same as anything else, a living thing God killed himself, and we are his slowly reforming nervous system. The ozone reek of engine exhaust, stench of burning rubber in the Metro. Watching paint strokes flicker in the evening trees, I’m confident that Bob Ross lives on and is hard at work somewhere.
Everyone’s shat, showered, shaved or otherwise steeled themselves to spend several hours in a beige veal-fattening pen, hell bent on keeping the Machine moving. They flow toward the goal like a river of blood, buildings swollen with the influx like concrete erections. Plastic lunches, apples at the ready, steady, go!
Estimate the amount of cardboard packaging transported Northeast along 395 between the hours of 6 and 9 a.m. On any given workday. Divide combined calories by total body mass, subtract fuel.
Wedged between the window and a plump Hindi, a woman fresh from her bath. Her jaw line appears more pronounced, as do the twin cords of muscle which terminate in shadow along her collar bone. The temples of her sunglasses are wide enough for a logo.
In the distance, another plane fingers its way into the wet morning womb of the sky. Later, clouds appear, pregnant with rain. Who’s the father? The pilot sneaks out the room, guilty look on his face, looks back at the camera: “Fucking with nature takes a lot out of a man.”
Plane departs, account for a slight change in Earthweight. Subtract 80,000 gallons of fuel, x luggage, y magazines. Weight of aircraft upon departure differs from weight of arrival.
Overhead, the man in 17A is reading the same article of the same publication as the elderly black receptionist sitting next to me, as is the Ant in the passenger seat of the car in the next lane over.
Later in the http://www.eek.day, somewhere else in the city. Sweltering gently in a black hoodie, one eye on the clock, both ears full of poetry, crashing symphony of electric guitars and crashing drums.
Lens flare on a parked car explodes like a million shining needles of shining truth. (Most people are consonants; sometimes you meet a vowel.)
Was I really in Morocco this year? Herr Doberman traded his camera for a hooker; couldn’t help it, she was stone beautiful and the only English she spoke were old Dylan lyrics…
Plants, concrete. Hiss of air brakes, dull roar of engines. The rectangles go up faster and faster, but we’ve yet to master the pyramids. Over and over, this same ride, this same loop of time. The same triggers, same memories, mental tendrils seeking out the wet paper fragments of the past. The same thoughts about flying, the same screaming desire to get up and walk from everyone and everything, forever. See ya in St. Louie, screwy! So near, and yet so far away.
“Once the bonds of filial love were loosed, my brother and I went our separate ways. Inevitably, one of us died.”
Can’t get off this planet, no one gets out of here alive. Those are the rules. Leper sores of spent chewing gum cover the sidewalk, oil-stained streets like automotive execution sites… Pennzoil and rusted intestines spill into the sewer. Chewed earth leaks out between mouthfuls of broken glass and wet leaves. Tired brick, faded paint, dead death and dying pride, vitality sapped and youth forgotten.
Beauty is temporary, but ugly lasts forever. Glass and curves for the elite, the promised, the educated, the clean and chosen. Brick shit-houses and bitter slumlords are the eternal reward for being born on the wrong street at the wrong time to the wrong people.
“Hand jobs for the bad luck crowd.” Nearly all of my heroes are dead.
Next day, traffic stretches into the distance. Meat, memorabilia, memories, mp3, m.p.h., methane. Ant Hour again. Creeping heat, stifling exhaust. Plodding, patience-sapped mobs, barely controlled anger, one step from an armed assault. “Have another shit sandwich! Plenty more where that came from. Suck it up, we’re all in this together.”
Buildings look like the artist’s conception of a whore after seven years of bad luck. Runs in the stockings, plays in the street. Sagging flesh, crumbling concrete. Inside each of these buildings is the one office you never want to get called into.
“We’re concerned about these… figures from last fiscal quarter, and well, we’ve concluded that maybe you’re just not a proper fit with our organization. You understand.”
Grab a cat seat at the back of the public troop transport, wedged in someplace where the air runs cool. It’s already five o’clock, and it’ll be close to six before I get home. Time gets a death grip on your ankles and heaves, takes the load like the noose around the neck of a man whose seen better days.
Come one, come all, the angry, the idealistic, the iconoclast and idiotic, we’re all guests in the abattoir sooner or later.
The stories come faster
When the money is tight
And the wolves of debt
Keep you up all night
(Renewed at the atomic level approximately every seven years, it’s)