Thursday, 12 December 2013

Wasteland



Nobody picks you up. Central California is a hitchhiking wasteland, three generations of your family could die out here before anyone got a ride. From the East is a front of Nevada conservative, edged with "Fuck you... bum!"... from the West comes plastic California, consumerism and media fear... these guys don't do alternative lifestysles. The two meet in the middle. Nobody picks you up. There's only fifty miles to go. but I'm done. I pick up my bag and I walk, I walk, I walk.

Two more hours I walk through Modesto, this nowheresville, small town of nothing that still stretches ten meaningless miles. I smell fumes, diesel, the exhausts of one single-occupied vehicle after another. There are no people... only me and the cars again. I see a woman from through the open driver's-side window of a pick-up. I walk towards her with "which way to the Greyhound station?" in my mouth... She sees me, corner of her eye she sees me as the words make their way on to my tongue. An electric window slides up.

I walk the streets, I hate the streets, each building a ten metre house surrounded by a hundred metre fence enclosing empty land. Two hundred metres to the next house. Desert towns. Misanthropic architecture... the buildings hate one another, fell-out long ago and will never sort things out. I can feel it rising in me, I'm about to start hating America anew, all over again. I wonder if maybe there's some sort of public transport system here, then I remember there isn't even a public. The individual transport system does a roaring trade beside me, I'm breathing-in the benzene to prove it.

Two more hours I walk Modesto, reach downtown and still nothing. No bars, cafes or public spaces. I'm the only human being left, an on-foot transport pervert. Drifts of leaves line the gutters of cracked concrete. Overhead are pepper trees, they drop corns of bright green and pink to grind beneath the burrs of my boots, crumbling in a storm of colour, of spice and scent. Nature created pink and green peppercorns. Mankind created Modesto. Try that for an order of rank. We lose. A man stumbles towards me, behind him the shopping trolley that contains his life. Loose jeans, black duffle coat, pale skin with red blotches all over it, red cracking white. Short fair hair, blue eyes, spittle dried thick and yellow on his lips. He comes at me... a hand a-reaching... "brother... brother... Pentrscstl chrch yiu?"... excuse me?... "Brother... brother... you got the Pentecostal church in you?... You can be saved!?" No thanks. I'm saved already.

I walk into the Greyhound station, simultaneously the only place I want to be and the worst place on earth. I see more men with shopping trolley lives, a woman in orange flannel hotpants and vest, reclining on a pavement and reading a book as her bloated stomach of alcohol crimson comes slipping out... still, stay positive... at least she's reading a book! A proud man is finishing off an argument, he's clean, wearing a pressed shirt a rich blue, chinos, neat moustache. He directs buses, looks like he works here, his patience looks thinner than mine... trying to keep afloat in Underclass, send his daughter to college so that she can get the hell out of Modesto for good. I ask the bus to Livermore, the Livermore BART station, where I can ride a metro train to San Francisco... he gives me short shrift.

      "No service."
      "What do you mean there's no service... you mean it doesn't exist?"
      He looks at me from behind sunglasses, "Kind of wiseass question is that?... what an asshole thing to say... jeez!"
      Exhausted, just as this guy looks ready to drown in his detritus, I realise sadly that the only sane people left in Modesto now hate one another more than all the deadbeats combined.
      "Of course it exists! But not until tomorrow. You'd need the bus to San Francisco... forty-five dollars... leaves in four hours."

My jaw drops once at forty-five dollars for a fifty mile bus journey, drops a second time at the idea of four more hours of life, lost forever in Modesto. I spin away, recoil, like I've been shot, peppered with bad news buckshot. I'm going nowhere fast and I need the toilet. I'll shuffle priorities, that can be the new task... take a leak, attainable goals. I head for the terminal. I step inside, I stride past human shrapnel, neoliberal carnage, shock and fucking awe... it's a living death in here... dogs curled-up in jackets, shopping trolley lives, laundry bags, cardboard "Homeless" signs staring right back at cardboard "Please Help!" signs... man... and they say twentieth century Communism was a disaster... that stuff must have been pretty special to top this. Misery. Incandescent misery. There are no words for this disgust, this contempt, it's burning, corrosive... if I were to spit the stuff it would burn through metal. There's no doubting it, I've had suspicions for a while but at last I'm convinced... this is the worst country in the world, largely because so many of the numbskulls still think it's the best. This is an abomination, cancel the aid budgets, tell the DEC. America is the world's foremost humanitarian catastrophe. Still, that's for another time boy... for now just get to the toilet, take a leak, then get out of here... stop getting distracted. I stride through, I make the toilets... it's cramped in here, people everywhere and nowhere to turn. Urinal on the wall.. black bag thrown over it in place of an Out of Order sign, the second urinal has fallen down and split. Hell... I've stepped into a crime scene. I make for cubicles, a toilet, shit in the bowl, door kicked off. I double out... a larger cubicle adjacent.. I keep my head down, I lift head as I step to cubicle. I see feet. Two feet. There he is, it's Uncle Sam... American Dream himself, sitting on the shitter, door wide open, trainers full of holes, trousers round ankles, trousers full of shit, legs stained black with soot and... why can't I stop my head?... eyes... really... why do you have to keep moving... you know this won't end well. There's his cock... violet.. purple... a slug, crawling out of pubis as my brain falls open and hears the calm, eminently sensible voice of Ripley... "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit."

I beat a retreat, I'm passing out... I'm drifting into hypo, seizure... I need an espresso... I don't mind admitting it either... not after Modesto, I need some gentrification, and fast, intravenous, a hypodermic shot of taleggio. I stride back out... faces, faces everywhere, dark eyes and reaching hands... The Horror! The Horror!... I spin, I gag. I want the subway, I want escalators and tubes that spirit you directly from a home to the safety of an office or an organised consumer recreation. I want San Francisco, I want an aubergine burrito, I want subway exit with artistic posters for new exhibition examining gender identity... I'll even take a bank as headline sponsor. I've had enough journey, just give me a destination... give me a destination, let it be San Francisco, and get me there by metro, let it be a journey through the earth. No more of this... just give me comfort, blindness, ignorance... I want the life, the oblivious life that the middle classes of the world create in recompense, that root, cosseted blindness by which it is all permitted to exist.

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