10MAY2015 – 0300. Standing outside my converted warehouse apartment at the edge of the river, waiting for a cab to take me to the airport. When it arrives, the ass end of the van is caked with carbon. Every surface is grimy to the touch. The brown leather seats are worn patchwork black from a million and five sliding asses. The handle is busted, and the windows are filthy. The driver confesses he’s never been on a plane before, but wants to visit Paris one day and is turn-around-in-his-seat mystified to learn that airports in other cities and in other countries are much larger than the one we’re driving to. He is amazed that the air near the beach could smell different than the air in the city.
Staring up at the pulse of the passing streetlights, I catch glimpses of a great glass leviathan from my imagination. It moves through the city at night spilling fog across the tops of buildings like dry ice, dream smoke invading the lungs of the sleepers. I can see one or two stars in the sky. The sight of them always makes me happy. Riding along in a grimy van one morning in 2015 with a dashboard GPS display and the promise of travel makes me feel like a character in a William Gibson novel. That’s kind of a life goal for me.
Not to sound like a hipster, but I’ve been into space since at least the second grade. My favorite toys were always spaceships and robots from any story, any genre. Not just Star Wars or Star Trek, but Space 1999, The Black Hole, Battle of the Planets, and Star Blazers. I never wanted to be into sports. Not even a little. Not even to be social. I understand why people like me are into science fiction. It’s more than escapism. It’s the promise of freedom and equality, and the chance to become a hero in a place where bills and work and relationships don’t mean the same thing as they do here.
When nerds like me close our eyes and dream of adventure and great ships, when we spend weeks bingeing on a series where the plot twist involves at least one character saying, “I had no choice!” or, “We’re caught in a wormhole!” or “The stress will tear this ship apart!” or, “We must have gone backwards in time!” then we’re no longer the quiet weirdos at the end of the bar wishing we had something clever to say to you. At that moment, we are no longer slaves to analysis paralysis: I think, therefore I am (sad.) We are no longer trapped by the cause and effect of this world — at least not until the delivery guy from the corner Greek place shows up. We’re out there on the edge, living by our wits, smug in our science, inhaling the inexplicable, and flying just as far and as fast as we can, before the fuel and the food run out, before the credits roll. Knew this was one way ticket, but you know I had to come.
Another anonymous hotel room near another airport, many hours later, reviewing notes for the job. My mind is unraveling, unclenching. Picture my brain with toes making fists in the carpet, McClane style. I have a large cold caffeinated drink beside me, and headphones plunged deep in my ears. This is my happy place. I’m half-listening to (and therefore misinterpreting) a Los Angeles police scanner as it creates half-formed worlds inside my head:
“Hi, Tony One. We need you to hang up the phone now. Bakkan 16 is shoreline 82, no warrants, some strange awareness. *squak* Depression and suicidal. (“Roger.” The dispatcher laughs like August wind fondling dry stalks of corn.) Unknown shovel volts. Anime nine, subject has synaesthesia, male, 39 years, code three incident. Phonetically spelled jet fuel, George Boy, yellow reports of people walking on a roof…” I force my mind to make sense of it all. This is the True Reality. This is where I want to live.
The world is moving faster now, and more brutally than ever before. So quick I can’t hold the pieces in my hands anymore. None of it means anything, just fragments of notes like the morning after an acid trip. Paralyzed jabbering, earthquake documentation, places where the pen was insufficient.
A recent dream: I was exploring a structure with many levels, endless patios, gardens and circular stairwells that led to decks, shaded courtyards, and open-air apartments. There was no one else there. I climbed a set of steps, turned left and found what looked like a walled-off room with a metal grid embedded in the wall at eye level. I peered through the grate. The interior was a dark cage and the air was choked with dust but something was moving in there and for a moment it terrified me.
“Hello?” I remember daring whatever it was to show itself. Dry plaster fell away in great chunks and clouds as I grabbed the grate and began to yank it from the wall. Everything deteriorated. Presently, I was able to peel one corner back and crawl in. There was a bench along the right wall, and I could see a figure sitting there with its knees drawn up. I crept closer, my heart in my throat, and one hand out before me, scared. When it suddenly glared up at me, I had the impression of long hair and rags, and a scissor-lined mouth too dangerous to be real. It rushed me, stopping short of my face with inches to spare.
Time passed in the dream, the figure gradually appearing more human; a woman with brown eyes and brown hair styled in bangs and pigtails. A normal face, less pointy teeth. Quite a nice smile, actually.
Eventually I knew her name was name was Bariahke (rhymes with Mariah Key.) I tore down the grate completely. I swept and scrubbed the floor, threw away the rotted bench, painted the walls and hung pictures. I brought in chairs and a table and a bed. I brought her clothes and a brush for her hair. Not once did I think to myself, “This is crazy, you’re making friends with a ghost.” I only saw someone who had been forgotten, who felt locked away, and I wanted to give her some semblance of a life. I never asked how she died. I figured that was her business. Eventually I could see color in her cheeks and in her eyes when she brushed her hair. Before the dream changed channels, she turned to me and spoke. “Where were you all my life?”
This is the extent of my relationships as of late.
Days later, a departure lounge in MDW, silently cheering the parade of passing expressions. I can’t capture it all. Words fail me. In the end, they’re just no good. In the end, they’ll say I never even came close. I have options now. I can smell baked goods, I can watch the rain claw at the glass, or I can watch a woman with stone desert eyes and soft copper coils piled high atop her head move left on the walkway as six men in identical haircuts and matching black polo shirts move to the right. There’s no point in describing the variety here; it happens at every hour and on every day since before The Now, and it will stretch on into the Many Years after. Observations are conscious fingers trailing in the stream.
South Africans have an expression for things that are about to happen. They call it ‘now now’, meaning almost, but not yet.