notes from the road part II
Normal people fall in love in college or at parties, I of course fall in love at a gas station. As I fingered the pump the world collapsed into slow motion and everything fell silent except the counter clicking past each gallon as it pulsed into my tank. Not having showered in three days, and standing in the cold of midnight somewhere between Nashville and Memphis I found my man at Exxon-Mobil. He was wearing plaid (bad) and standing next to a giant red truck (even worse) but we couldn’t take our eyes off each other. It was then that I remembered I was wearing a yoga leotard, an old bomber jacket and a dead rabbit on my head. The hat would have been much better suited to either a Russian prostitute or a synchronized swimmer at the Winter Olympics.
As I got in the car to drive away every part of me wanted to rush back and ask this nameless, plaid wearing stranger to shack up at the nearest motel with me. Whole fantasies were built, and then destroyed in a millisecond when I imagined page 38 of the Village Voice with a small headline nestled somewhere between “Shakira the transvestite will love you for who you are” and “Bloomberg asks Occupy Wall Street Protesters to apply at Starbucks” that read, “Local Bar Owner dies at the hands of LL Bean loving sociopath”. I just didn’t want to go out like that.
I always wondered if the SAT’s would come in handy…and it turns out in fact, that they didn’t. But when you drive cross-country the number two pencil neuron in your mind tries to solve equations like, “If Dallas is 266 miles away and I am driving 80mph, how much time will it take me to arrive?” It was embarrassing to realize that my math skills are in accordance with my inability to reseal ziplock bags entirely shut, and stored in the “simple shit my brain can’t do” category within the faulty recesses of my parietal lobe.
The SAT being a cruel gift from god managed to infiltrate every aspect of my trip. When I stopped in Fort Worth to stay at my friend’s ranch and asked her how big her property is she responded “4500 acres”. My heart stopped because the last time I checked, my friend is not a cult leader hosting orgies on the prairie, nor a CEO planning to build the next exploit-a-mart and those were the only two reasons I could conceive of for any single person owning that much land. After the initial shock I immediately thought, “How many football fields does it take to fill 4500 acres?” And as my pained synapses collided in wonder, my friend cracked open a beer while trying to convince me that Fort Worth is a cultural epicenter because they have a Van Gogh in the local museum. For some reason everyone that leaves New York City feels the need to justify their decision.
In the most mundane landscapes along the highway, industry glitters like jewels. From the low lying stretches of Arizona huge turbines spring up like crescent moons trailing stars of light at dusk. Robotic herons plunge into the ground rhythmically siphoning minerals from the soil. There are endless delicate lines of metal laced into anthropomorphic totem polls punctuating the route. The stark white fans harnessing wind power rotate in unison until gently falling out of pace with one another when a distant gust of wind rustles up sand from a far off sea. Everything seemed vaguely reminiscent of an unidentifiable character from Star Wars. There is so much unintentional beauty in the world.
Madonna’s Immaculate Collection is anything but. At mile number 2237 on the drive I realized that in the course of one album this bitch manages to: lose her virginity, get knocked up, have sex with Jesus, use astrology to determine her true love, and acquires borderline personality disorder while confirming that we do indeed, live in a material world. Really? My vote for her most psychologically compelling lyric is, “At night I lock the door where no one else can see. I’m tired of dancing here all by myself. Tonight I want to dance with someone else.” I know how she feels. I spent many a lonely night in a cramped, dank, studio in the east village pleading with myself to get into the groove girl. Around the same time that Miss Ciccone discovered kabbalah, she also happened to discover techno. What emerged from that was so profound, I’m not quite sure I can share the mystical details with you here. Suffice it to say, that if one can justify their love while blowing a stranger on a train in Paris then we all have the capacity to know the kingdom of heaven biblically.
In Arizona I stopped at a Dairy Queen, which stood regally as the only sign of life between shorn mountains and boulders remaining from geological eras past. As I headed back to my car an old man digging through the trash looked up and wished me a “Great Day.” It was so sincere that I was astounded and wished him the same. He said, “I’d better have a great day, I’m 90!” It reminded me to be thankful for every moment on this earth and to move with grace throughout them. Then I proceeded to back up over a curb careening over two concrete islands before landing with a thud, the engine sputtering to a silent halt. Panic struck at the thought of being stranded there indefinitely, serving D grade burgers and sorry fries in a pinwheel colored hat wearing turquoise jewelry as a wave of shame washed over me. I just sat there pitifully with the mountains glaring I-told-you-so and crossed my fingers as I tried the ignition.
I got stopped at the border a second time and was all prepared to state my nationality with pride when the officer leaned into my car with a look of consternation and asked, “Mam, do you have any apples or oranges?” I stared back at him quizzically, wondering if there was a particularly virulent form of fruit fly on the loose. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about all the fiji natives, clementines, tangelos and granny smith’s I had loaded in the trunk for the weapon of mass destruction I was planning to make from a smoothie. I felt blessed when he let me cross the border into California without an inspection.
Call it sheer stupidity or wishful thinking, either way I figured there would be a welcoming committee for me at the border between Arizona and California. I thought the desert would automatically disappear like a cartoonist erasing a landscape they didn’t want and replacing it with paradise. Where was the rockette line of bottled blondes in bikinis doing high kicks and film producers with mirrored sunglasses cast against a grove of pineapples forming a trellised path for me? I was disappointed when I sped past the “Welcome to California” sign, which was succeeded by an even bigger sign, “Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers. Maximum Security Prison In Vicinity.” My fears were soon alleviated when a billboard appeared out of this arid desert nowhere proclaiming, “1-800-GET-THIN” and I thought, wow! Californians are so nice! All you have to do to lose weight is call a hotline! The social welfare program here is just so great.
My first lunch date in Los Angeles was at the “Gratitude Café” where I spotted emaciated women in see through lingerie and cut off shorts tottering about in seven inch heels. There was a line to snort stevia in the bathroom and I could hear vitamins being popped in the stalls. I asked my date whether these women were actresses dressed like whores, or whores dressed like actresses and he responded, LA is an equal opportunity city, we don’t make any distinction between the two. When our waitress came over and asked what we wanted I peered down at the menu, looked up at her and feeling slightly like an autistic child on the low end of the spectrum said, “Um… I am enlightened?” “Great!” she said, zen oozing from her pores, chakras of light bursting from her third eye, “Do you want anything to drink?” I responded hesitantly, “Um, I am rich?” “Wonderful! Now, the question of the day is… What is special about today?” And as our waitress whisked away, leaving my date and I to ponder the retardation factor of her query, I knew that I had reached the promised land. If a vegan BLT can translate to inner peace, and even whores have a chance at good karma, I know I’m gonna fit right in here. As the sound of lama-dama-ding-dong-govinda-shiva-bah-jesus-jaya blared from the speakers I wondered why I had ever bothered going to an ashram. With one “ado-muka-shablam!” I had transcended samsara and had reached nirvana for sixteen dollars.
I went to an art opening last night and was relieved to find that the LA art scene is just as stupid as the NY one. When I came upon the gallery I caught a waft of Bumble and Bumble pomade on the cool night air. There before me were stony eyed women in pleather fringe accompanied by their lanky boyfriends with grease-laden mops. When I heard “Heeeeeeeey Franceeeeeeeesca” arc out over the breeze I knew I was in the right place. People stood around in pairs gazing at framed pictures of nothing. It was art that attempts to look like art and then is mistaken for art. I couldn’t really pay attention to the work though, because I was fighting off the urge to use a defibrillator on the night of the living dead that had gathered. There is absolutely nothing more boring than an art opening. Everyone stands around in an impolite nuzzle fest like kittens kneading your body preparing to suckle from your bloated tits while piercing through to draw blood. Having forgotten to detract their claws people feign nice while milking you, laughing at your “cool ironic” comment, and cutting you down at your “real ironic” comment, the latter of which translates to the truth. Someone once told me that an opening is a, “celebration of the artist” but I liken the event more to a perpetual wake for the death of originality.
LA is a wayward suburbia. A perverse strip mall built upon illusions. The four million real people here gather at night in the bars, in the backyards, and laugh at the absurdity of the one plastic person whose life they manicure, cultivate, produce and promote. This support crew slopes downward into the untold masses. The homeless, vagrant, drug addicted, peddlers who line the street with shopping carts, who walk on their knees across traffic, park it out front of fancy restaurants rustling through bags of empty soda cans and extend their arms along each exit ramp in despair. LA has an underbelly that is right side up and exposes itself between every 7-11 and Sunset. And while cars inch forward the bourgeois complain about the traffic on the 405,110, 22 and 5 with a bitter rancor normally reserved for philandering husbands. Having survived the fatalistic video game that is a taxi ride in NY, I have now arrived into the hallucinatory void of LA taillights gleaming snake eyes red streaming into high beams of white, summoning me to go towards the light. As the ominous signs along the numerous highways that got me here warned, “Zero Visibility Possible”. A more apt description of the future I could not imagine.