2 January, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Elroy rambles down the way, a crumpled five freshly lining his hip pocket. Reeling, and tossing; stumbling hard towards the 7-11, drawn by a parching thirst and the need to wash a vile taste from his mouth. The big green and red marquee illuminates the darkened lonely swatch of deadened hood, a sort of guiding star set against the glistening city skyline across our river, untouchable as a cutout over a paper lantern.
“Harlot,” he mutters out against the gilded prop. ”Dirty whore!” Elroy spits for the umpteenth time, a heaping gob of saliva spattering onto the crumbling pavement. The shop is just up ahead, harried on ever closer with every lengthy step. He rushes to it, scarcely paying mind to the deserted avenue. Tinged with an amber florescence, a yellowed, peeling, sickly scar across the city’s belly – leftovers from a gruesome appendectomy dealt her yonks before.
He swings the heavy door wide by its plastic handle, nearly falling into the phosphorous glare of the 7-11. ”Evening,” the clarky halfheartedly whelps as Elroy makes for the coolers towards the back. Past rows of superfluities, all overpriced snake oils and impotent salves for a delirious hypochondriac’s maniacal fancy. Coca-Cola – pah! Sugar can mask a mouthful of shampoo, but it can’t wash it all away like the liquid bite of a Minott’s Black Star double hopped golden lager.
Elroy grabs a can from the case, cold to the touch and dewy with condensation. One dollar, eighty-seven. He can afford two, and accordingly double-fists it back to the front counter. His eye catches the Big Bites behind the plexi with their overstuffed cousins, the Really Big Bites; corn dogs and sausages tumbling upon the greasy rollers, lolling gay somersaults beneath the fiery furnace of an overhead lamp. Everything wieners, two for two dollars. Big greasy gobs of grit and casing, maliferous salt encrusted heart-stoppers reeking of a fun fair. Conjuring up baseball games and amusement parks, hand in hand with Mar and Da once upon a time, like.
“Do you have anything that isn’t shaped like a cock?” he mumbles, cheeks flushing violently.
“I’m sorry?” the clerk asks incredulously, craning his head back over the sneeze guard.
“I asked where the relish packets are,” Elroy iterates loudly. A relieved-looking rather than mollified clerk points towards a display across from the counter, rife with condiments and disposable cutlery and serviettes. It all looks and smells so good, and Elroy recalls he hasn’t had anything substantial to nosh at today. ”How much for a hot dog?”
“Everything two for two dollars, one for one-fifty,” the clerk replies mechanically. Oily faced, pudgy shitbag with a roughshod bristle-brush for a goatee, and nametag that reads Daggett. Elroy muddles through the math in his head, two Starrs for three sixty-something, with one-thirty or so left along. Not enough for a dog. He scrambles through his pockets, hoping for a bit of change. All he has is the crumpled, miserable fiver and a lonesome nickel which he sets to the counter alongside the pair of cans.
“Couldn’t give me a discount on a one?” he winces, feeling vaguely pathetic and all-consumed now by ravenous hunger in addition to his desertificated thirst. Anything to wash it all down, for Chrissakes…
“I’m sorry sir, but a hot dog would bring your total to five twenty-four,” the remorseless clerk replies, glaring at Elroy’s dirty, chewed up fingertips haphazardly drumbling on his counter. Leaving greasy, dusty, dewy, proteiny paw prints upon the illuminated glass, fuzzying up the display of pocket knives and novelty lighters.
“Hell…” Elroy ponders, reaching deep into the emptied pit of his being. There are only three pennies in the take-and-leave tray by the register, not enough to avoid making a decision with. ”The hell with it then,” he decides at last, handing over his five dollars. The cashier takes it reluctantly, quickly dishing back Elroy’s change at arm’s length on the counter. ”No need for bags,” Elroy admonishes with a grimy wink as Daggett reaches for the thin paper sacks down below.
“State law, sir. I could lose my job if I don’t bag your alcoholic beverages.”
“Whatever.” He pockets up his dollar and change and grabs up his purchase, condensation bruising through the paper bags. ”Night,” he offers stiffly, but the cashier does not bother with a reply, turning round to fetch an unlabeled sprayer of industrial knockoff Windex. The first step outside is a nippy reminder of the shifting seasons, a cold winter crawling towards the city at a steady pace. Elroy pockets one bagged beer, tearing the soggy remnants of the other to the asphalt lot. The can hisses and crackles, first gulp freezing and flavourless.
Refreshing, rejuvenating, and ultimately liberating him from the tyranny of the mouthful, the pang of desperation, and the bitter memory of a crumpled five dollar bill.
21 December, 2012 § 1 Comment
Isn’t that ever the problem, though? Once the world ends, what’s to say if the pipes will keep pumping water or not? I’ve stockpiled coffee, a few dozen cans of varying brands stacked in the dinette next to my emergency cricket bat and camp kit. I couldn’t afford an assault rifle after buying all of that coffee, which is just as well since there’s an awful connotation with the things of late.
I’m sitting on the floor in the middle of the house sipping my cuppa, waiting for the fireworks to start. And that’s just it – the Mayans weren’t very particular about the nature of this bloodbath. But let’s be reasonable. I’m scrolling back, recalling the possibilities boiled down for consumption in our filmiest of American mediums. Not 2012 obviously, that film was purely garbage. Cloverfield, or any number of Bond scenarios. A zombocalypse is possible, if only because so many people want it to happen. Sort of like war in Europe; get enough people’s waves turned on a thing and it’ll be made so.
Not that I’m overly prepared for any of this. Like I said, I’ve my coffee. Not sure if the power and water’ll keep up afterwards, though I’ve read someplace that the Hoover Dam would continue to produce power by itself for upwards of a thousand years, until the concrete finally crumbles away. Now that’s a feat of engineering! Why can’t we build something like that these days? Moot point anyway, as the world’s ending. There’s a perverse pleasure to be had in that phrasing, similar to not getting the job you’ve half applied for that lets you keep on wallowing about in self-pity.
Thinking Trainspotting there, not an apocalypse piece so much as a venture into wholesome depravity. If our power keeps on I may watch a bit of it. If not, I’ve a fat copy of Moby Dick beside me. I’d often suffixed the title with an oath and it being the last book in the world, but here we are. Game time. It’s my only regret, not reading the bloody thing. And I’ve meant to. It’s just been a blur of distraction, these few years or so. I blame Facebook, honestly. And YouTube. There are other lesser bodies and sites of unmentionably low moral character, but those are the two biggest sucks on the teat of time.
Makes a guy feel low, once-was what-iffery of the contemplative final hours. I’d pray, but then there’s no such thing as God. I know that much, at least. Which is why I haven’t prepared in any way for an apocalypse of biblical proportions. Because come now, why base your day around a fantasy that lacks originality? Horsemen and plagues and fire? Please, we’ve all been there. It’s called Darfur, and we’re finally past all that. That’s another consideration not normally taken in these cinematic figurings, is whether there would be near enough blue helmets to spread around after the world’s end. Doctors sans borders, myriad ulcered physicians and nurses and volunteers fretting about here and there. The end of the world seems a bit nervy, put that way.
Give me A Boy and His Dog, which is not to say I’ve got a dog. I’m sure there’ll be tons of the damned things wandering about and over-breeding, once society melts away. I’ll have the pick of the litter, as the expression goes. I know I’ll survive. That’s the essence of the immutable human spirit: that despite it all, I will survive this, be it hurricane, volcano, war, plague, death, or holiday shopping spree. The holidays- hell, but that’ll be a definite dampener, this apocalypse. All those gifts and dinners and travel plans, shot all to shit. One wonders if future waves of survivors might commemorate the day, either usurping Christmas or sucking in the seasonal celebrations into Life Day, or the druidic Winter Solstice or some such. Even after the demise of life and liberty, one imagines the power of marketing would survive enough not to let it go.
But what sort of post-apocalypt might I be? I help myself to a fourth cuppa, keeping low behind the countertops so’s to avoid taking a blast of glass to the face. One cannot be overly careful in these situations, really, a case of prevention-and-cure axiomation. That’s the other thing Hollywood tends to gloss over, is the character (if not basic motivations) of its survivor folk. There is a sense of human spiritual camaraderie, yes, but that’s more thrust-upon heroism than planned-for protagony. We all know today’s the day; all of us can be assumed to be sitting about, wondering what to do once the ball finally drops. Once society comes to a halt, who is it I want to be? It depends an awful lot on the nature of the event, but I can see myself being the Mad Max-y lone wanderer, intent to content himself with boyish exploration of this newly unshaped Earth of ours. It’s cliché and ungodly predictable, and there’s sure to be no lack of us brutes out there. But apocalypse only comes once in a blue moon, right-right?
That’s another thing I intend to do in post-apocalyptia. We’re taking English back to pre-cellular days. I’m talking commas and proper punctuatives, paradoxically enough bringing order to language in the midst of physical disorder. In the apocalyptic wastelands I’ll have carte blanche to finally distribute rough justice to grammatical offenders, so that’ll be something. I’ll need a bigger cricket bat, though… Yes, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but today’s going to be a bit of alright. And dammit, I feel fine.
12 December, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I step off the number 15 onto the corner of 6th and Alder, sweaty hands in my pockets. Not that it’s at all hot out, the day. Rather, I’ve been clinging to that damned hand rail so long, detoured as we were and stop-and-starting our chug-a-lug way all across the city. I’m gathering my bearings. I need to head northwest, to my left. I refer to the crumpled, moistened Post-It slip begrudgingly pulled from my pocket.
820 SW Alder, Rich’s Tobacco
Midnight Express, House of Craven
I’d done a little snooping online, looking for a place in this Portiest of Lands that sells rough-cut pipe tobacco. Good stuff, mind; not those tufty dried bags of brittle cough-inducing rats’ nesting, the crap one lines Easter baskets with. Naw, I’m talking the crème de la crème, billowing clouds one can chew at a bit before spitting it all out, something you can blow into circles, cut in half with a knife, and store on the shelf for later viewing pleasure.
On the walk I briskly pass a ragman on the corner, vying for change with a gigantic bearded bum across the street. Avoiding eye contact and chancing to look both ways I jay across towards the beardo, who has unwieldy flecks of muck dried in his hair. He’s looking at me hard, I can see it from the corner of my eye as I caddy across again before the light turns. “Cock-swallowing biggler!” he shouts after me. But I’m swinging right, moving up the block in my face-forward urban walk mode. Looking ahead for signs of Rich’s Tobacco.
I can’t help but take the biggler remark with the best of humors, or ponder the crusty gigantic beard it came from. Which inadvertently makes me think about homelessness in general. ‘There but for the grace’ and like, the rather thin societal lines that separate simple poverty from a hopeless situation. It’s a rough-shod world out there, ready to kick and crush and stample and leave behind a body when a bloke’s chips are down, when the rent checks stop. Sure, the world’ll pick them back up, dust them down, nudge them along, and maybe toss a scrap of bread now and then. Hell, we’re human, yes? Yet given half a chance the kicking will resume, the winos canned and sprayed down and detoxed, beaten feet and released back into the concrete jungle whence they were wrested.
Or so one assumes – I really couldn’t say for sure. But as a result of these muddled thoughts I very nearly pass by the shop, not noticing until the last its gigantic plastic pipe swinging over the doorway. I push open the polished parlor doors and enter a haven of good smells. Nice, pungent aromas, of boxed cigars and bottled shag. There’s a cigar store Indian by the door, countless pipes under glass shelves, innumerable knick-a-knacks and paraphernalia and ‘classy male’ regalia. The stuff of midlife crises and bourgeoisie fatness, the things good dens are built of.
I’m like a kid in a candy store, gravitating with saucer eyes towards the several dozen jars of tobacco terraced behind the counter. Filled with Balkans and Burleys, aromatic Virginias and delectable Cavendish. I’m sure there’s a bit of Turkish about, but my attentions have already been grabbed by several jars of the black stuff and I’m looking about for my usual fare, the black cav. “Can I help you find anything?” a nasal, scruffily feminine voice asks from my right. She seems about my age – perhaps even a tisch older – and very Portland fare: all hemp and linen, tattoos, piercings and vaguely bored looks.
“Yaar, I’m looking ferra black Cavendish,” I’m sort of slurring, drunk on the sights and smells. Thinking about it, it’s the first I’ve spoken all day and feels fairly well awkward. As though the words I’m speaking are simply stale leftovers from the night before.
She walks around the counter, the bored countenance deepening into something bordering impudence. “What kind of black Cavendish did you have in mind?” And I suppose I hadn’t any idea there were more varieties than just the one. I’m the sort that feels satisfied consuming a thing without necessarily jumping into details. I’ve smoked black Cavendish for years, having found from among all other blends that I enjoy it most. But she picks up on my reticence and begins to hound me with her knowledge. “Well, I mean do you tend to smoke the vanilla blends – typically black Cavendish is seasoned with vanilla, brown sugar, and alcohol – or do you tend to smoke the infusion blends like cherry or walnut” and she leaves off there, looking at me.
Again, I have nothing to say, sort of shaking my head and thinking Vanilla? Vanilla? “I suppose I smoke regular black Cavendish.”
She huffs. “How long have at you been smoking pipe?” and somehow the question really irks me. It reminds me of a time I stopped by Teavana at the Mall of America. It was another of those kid-and-candy-store situations, another instance where despite it all I knew what I wanted. I’d ordered a couple ounces of Lapsang Souchong, that smoky eastern delicacy. And at the time the dickweed behind the counter’d scoffed at me, you going to use that for cooking? and like. That’s pretty smoky, some people find it difficult to drink. The shit! That’s precisely the reason I like it! It’s smoky! It’s different! Fuck off!
Again, I’m feeling this is another ‘Fuck off!’ clarky know-too-much kind of instance. “I suppose it’s difficult to say,” I say, trying my hardest to think back. How long’ve I smoked pipe really? “Since I was eighteen, I suppose… Eight years?” And gods above, but it’s been eight years! I’m feeling like an old man already, and internally damning the clerk girl for bringing it up at all. Whatever happened to the soulless pick, pay, and leave? Mentioning the weather in the blandest way of passing and such?
“Hum,” she smirks, why I haven’t the faintest. “Well we blend all of our tobaccos in shop. We buy it all in bulk, you see. It makes for a better quality blend, most people find.”
“So what, you have a smoker or something?” I say foolishly, and I’m not really sure how black cav is prepared. Is it smoked? Is it boiled? Roasted? Goddamn sautéed?
She cocks an eyebrow and scrunches a perplexed look. “Smoked? No, here- let me show you.” And she hefts up this huge bag of the blackest, moistest looking Cavendish I’ve ever seen, at least a stone weight’s worth. She talks to me slowly, as though to a small child, “See, we get it in bags like these, then we blend it with other varieties and flavors. That’s how we get our unique house blends.”
“Right, right,” I nod, fully annoyed yet somewhat salivating over the sheer quantity of this unadulterated black shag. I wonder if a cigar shop has ever been held up for its bulk tobacco… “Could I have a few ounces of your black Cavendish then?”
And that was it. She painlessly produces a bag, albeit painfully overpriced. I pick, I pay, and I leave, though not before she hands me a business card and implores me to look up their other blends. I step out into the chilly September air of downtown, bag in hand and looking dumbly at this business card. Wondering why it was I’d been so irritated, why I internally am still smoldering with vexation. Tone, maybe. An affront to self-esteem, possibly. Ich kenne nicht, aber es mir egal.
I walk on aimlessly, making sure to keep a street’s distance from the man in beard. Perhaps I’ll head to the park and puff a bit on this benign October day.