16 January, 2014 § Leave a comment
Hell of a fucking thing, Roger thinks, looking over the tussled front end of his Audi. Completely jumped the curb into the frozen bank, wheels prolly needing a realignment at the least. He sincerely hopes the axle hasn’t been dicked up any.
Dry snow crackling beneath his tread, he pushes through the wind back round to the driver’s side, climbs inside. Puts back into reverse, thump-flump whirring on backward into the empty intersection, pulls on back to the way he had originally intended.
It’s a hell of a thing, he considers, the difference a season or two might make. Six months before, same time and place, those two blonde kids would have been out at this same corner with their lemonade stand. Completely crumpled, in addition to his tussled front end. Not that he’d have skid into them, really, those conditions. Hell of a thing to think, though.
As he drives on, more gingerly than before, he wonders if – conditionally speaking – he ought to have caught a cab instead. But such are the seasons; not that it matters, these dead and lifeless times.
16 August, 2013 § Leave a comment
Rutger hasn’t the faintest what to say, facing the splintered unvarnished insides of his postal box glittering in the morning sun. Devastation studded in dewy, damnable diamonds like a fallen monarch. Leaving the binbag at the doorstep he approaches it, instantly wearied.
One and forty years it had stood there, erect and except for the rain and other-daily tussle with the postman remaining unmolested in that time. Hand-hewn bits of maple, measured and planed and sanded, bound together with coach screws. Stained once, twice. Thrice, gleaming red like the blessed cross.
Gone. Gutted, abandoned; ripped to shreds in a moment of youthful insensibility. A bit of dew around an inferior palpebra, recalling easy Saturdays in the tool shed. Ashy remnants of a fine cigar intermingled with the scatted dusty flakes of some uterine project. The twisting screw, the dull thock of progress forging into existence a slew of numbers and carefully thought-through shapes.
Gnarled, like his hands. How long has it been? Nine or ten, mending the fence now buried in ivy. Planking deteriorated and rotten as the swing set’s, its swollen timbers and rusted chain, weedy fingers loosely holstered in the sand, shat in by a hundred wandering cats.
Aches and dull pains, vexing as he picks up the bigger pieces, and the stand roughly snapped in two gigantic, ragged pieces. Nine or ten, he wonders if he can do it.
Thinks he can’t. Bundled up in sore arms he takes it round the back, nudging past the ricketed gate with his shin bones, toward the faded, fated, blighted old shed. Dull orange and sodden green, the skeletal remains of the old pushmow frailly leans against the side wall beside the greasy, depedestalled concrete birdbath, half-sunken into the scruffied soil.
Dimly inside, dust and the odd traces of rust, air repugnant with damp decay. Nine or ten, going on to a lifetime ago, clung to the wall the scattered tack of a weekend’s pleasure. Not just pleasure- opportunity. The possibilities of creation, beholden only to pay packet leftovers and the physical limitations of wood and iron.
Maudlin, Rutger awkwardly sweeps a layer of smut from the workbench with the palm of his hand, arms still entwined around the broken, fractured box. Clattering, it stays there, an incomprehensible mess that makes his every fibre age a hundred, thousand years.
He realises there’s no chair in here, no place to drop himself down. There used to be a hammock, strung between a steel eyelet bracketed into the outside wall and the apple tree, a happy cluster of leafy respite from the deathless glare of many summer suns. The material got old and tattered, the eyelet long since broken from rust. The apple tree still stands though, taller and stronger and on an entirely other rhythm than his own.
He pulls down on the dangling chain, the delayed luminescence of his flourescent worklamp veiled in gauzy webbing, like a virgin spinster turned bride. Brushing aside another threadbare web from the handle of a long-holstered screwdriver, he lifts it, fumbling with its long forgotten length and weight; a mother tongue long tied into the odd empty expression.
Rutger hasn’t the faintest what to do with himself, facing the dismembered fragments of a project long taken for granted, trying to divine a forgotten art with all the strength and surety left to middle age similarly taken for granted and irrevocably lost. Standing there, feeling a quaking old fool, fast enfeebled yet painfully aware of the transition. Shrouded in dust at the far end of cognisance, a foreign screwdriver impotently in hand.
With throbbing wrists he sets it down beside his broken box with a dull, endless thud. The sound hangs in his hoary ears as he tugs the dangling chain and steps out from the darkness. Huffing a bit of cool morning air, he closes the shed door forever behind him.
25 July, 2013 § Leave a comment
“I’ll take a Jack and Coke,” Aaron tells the man behind the counter, who leans in and squints, the very look of noncomprehension. “Wee-ski Coke,” he reiterates curtly, looking once more at his watch as he perches himself on the nearest stool. The bartender, a dark skinned little man in at least his fifties, mutters to himself as he moves to fix the drink.
Aaron realises his hands are still shaking, wristwatch almost unreadable. He grabs a fist to steady his arm some. He will most definitely miss his connection in Paris, he considers glumly. Garçon returns with a half-glass of watery something, no ice, which is extremely irritating. Handing over a crisp ten-thousand franc note he was forced to purchase at the exchange, he glowers over his beverage and recounts the recent ordeal.
What are the odds?
That was what the man had asked, an Italian businessman with a decent smattering of English who had been seated beside him on the plane. They were all stupidly standing about outside the security area in Duoala, waiting to be called one-by-one into the little room for questioning.
The bland room had a table and two chairs, reeking of sweat and skin lotion. A tired-looking official in a smartly kept uniform sat to the one side, taking notes on his clipboard. He spoke with a thickly accented monotone, stating rather than asking questions.
“What is your name, please.”
“Did you see anything suspicious before your plane take off.”
“Did you see person on macadam?”
“No.” Aaron had no idea what or who MacAdam was, but the answer was no. Would be no. Would only be no. Deny everything, and get the hell out of here. “I don’t know anything.”
The official briefly glared at him, glancing back to his clipboard before giving a dismissive wave. A scrawny security guard saw him out.
He sips at his liquor cola, reliving his irritation. Replaying what he ought to have said, or wish he might have said instead. Outrageous. Whatever the drink is made from, it’s not whiskey. Outrageous. The bartender brings back his change, a crumpled stack of five- and one-hundred franc notes. “What is this?” Aaron asks, pointing at his drink.
“One more?” the man asks.
He shakes his head and takes his drink to a table, making a point not to leave a tip. Three more hours in this miserable place, he ponders to himself bitterly. They will have to shift to another plane while police investigate theirs, and Aaron imagines an enormous sandwich bag tagged Exhibit A with a jumbo jet crammed inside of it.
Exhibit B would be the body, he reflects, or what might have been left of it. They must have been at twenty, thirty thousand feet when he dropped, foolhardy bastard. Falling all that way, having to watch terra firma quickly catch back up with himself… it’s a frightening thought.
Who would have thought it was a good idea, though? Vexed by the hopeless idiocy of it all, he wonders if Judi is worried. He hasn’t seen the news, of course, but he hopes it was clear enough that the dead guy was a stowaway, not a passenger.
They’ll have probably rifled through his baggage by now. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. It’s all an enormous outrage. Huffily, Aaron drains his glass.
25 July, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’m not much by much by way of a fairgoer, I guess it’s fair to say. Circuses either, though after winning these tickets to the rodeo in our office raffle it occurred to me it was novel enough a thing to feel excited about. There was a story in it somewhere as well, which makes it all a bit of a busman’s affair.
The first thing that struck me, approaching the arena, was the number of Stetsons hovering over the heads of attendees like matted straw or brushed felten halos. Making the wearer look like a goddamned religious icon, as Lance Henricksen might say before pressing his boot in.
The second thing, after getting past the deathless auld ticket collector at her stile, is the smell. That earthy, barny, pent in sort of odour – intermingled dirt and piss and soft, grassy shit roughly kneaded together and partially encased in a humid, concrete bubble. Like a fine cigar, something to run your nose over once or twice to savour before setting it alight.
“Do you know where Ian Aberdeen’s at?” I ask the old woman, rather than dumbly scan a room filled with hundreds, thousands of dudded up dudes who may or may not be whom I’m after.
The name seems to register, as she starts blinking furiously in recollection. “You mean Eeen? Eeen’s down there in the pit, hon.” I ask if there’s a way down from here, and she shakes her head and suggests I go around to the back entrance.
I backtrack, back down the stairs, across the lobby filling in with pudgy patriarchs and their lumpy familiars, glazed in sweat and often munching on something purchased at the fair outside. Circling around to the loading bay, or maybe unloading area, to a makeshift security checkpoint. There’s a gal there working, who cocks an eyebrow at me appraisingly as I approach, surely reeking of uncertainty. If I’d had a Stetson, it would be worried around in my hands.
“I’m looking for Eeen Aberdeen,” I tell her, flashing my media badge half heartedly. The place is crawling with horses. Huge, muscular beasts with enormous faces, living volcanoes wont to release streams of piss and molten dung without warning from enormous orifices. I’ve no idea what to do around the things, a race of beings entirely alien to my experience.
Galchik points out a rotund fellow in a striped shirt and enormous hat with a clipboard, and waves him on over. Eeen extends an enormous arm towards me for vigorous hand grappling, “Goddamned good of you to come out here,” he tells me, cheery grin exposing gold encrusted teeth. His hand is somehow soft and hidey at the same time, like a sausage casing ready to burst.
We shuttle about, dodging horses as he tells me a bit about the rodeo. The lifestyle. The values. Pointing out various riders, all on teams of four with most wearing matching shirts that remind me a bit of the bowling leagues. They’re all great guys, he tells me; good riders, good talkers, good family people and doubtless, good ranchers. Cattle people and general sons of the soil.
“That guy, there,” Eeen goes, aiming a swollen digit at a shortish, middle-aged dude in a peach coloured shirt. “One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, Coby. Funny, too,” he explains boisterously, just short of slapping me on the back. “There was this one time he was out at the bar, and this guy is just riding him all night. General asshole. Anyway, so Coby finally asks if he wants to go, tells him he’ll even let him throw the first punch.
“The guy did, but you know, Coby sort of rolled with it, and telt him ‘You hit like a girl.’ So then he clobbers the guy, splits his face right open. Needed thirty-six stitches.” He shakes his head, chuckling. “Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, though. You’d never guess.”
So that was Coby.
He has me meet other fellows, these plainly contemptuous, life-hardened, dangerous men I’d hope to never meet in a bar anyplace, perched atop their horses. I realise I’ve no clue what really to ask any of them, beyond how long they’ve been riding, or what their favourite event is.
“Mugging,” is always the answer. Eeen has to go, things to do and the like. I ask security galchik if there’s any place I oughtn’t be, and she tells me to stick to the sidelines, on the non-arena side of the fencing.
“Just don’t go into the cattle pen,” she cautions with a wink, and I suddenly remember I’ve a penis. She directs me to go between a pair of horses, which I’m hesitant to attempt. It’s a fear, that my last agony might be the acknowledgement of a hoofbeat to the skull.
I stake out a spot away from these equine monsters, near an empty makeshift corral by the main gate. Team by team, the riders gallop in as they are announced, the arena become a bloody din of applause and classic rock as they come. As everything seems to, the event takes a serious tone, every body rising from its seat as the announcer on the thunderous p.a. system begins recounting the history of the cowboy.
A cowgirl on some sort of horse – I really can’t tell a chestnut from a Chesterfield – gets ready in the staging area, bearing the American flag. It strikes me that the next couple of minutes might well be the most American thing I’ll have ever seen in my lifetime, as talk of cowboys transmogrifies into that of soldiers, a thematic lumping of heroism and the perpetuation of the American dream. It segues into the American national anthem, which we are all invited to sing along to. I begin to sing along as the American flag gets borne two or three times around the arena, an American hat held to every American chest.
I’m not particularly sure whether the anthem warrants a hand to the heart, an action which strikes me as more suitable to a loyalty oath or the pledge of allegiance. I gaze at the crowd, gauging whether or not everybody else is clutching chest or not, when it becomes apparent almost nobody is singing, or even pretending to be by moving their mouths. Hats are duly doffed but mostly hands are at the sides, or stuffed into pockets. Anyway, there’s nothing more to say, much less sing to. I break out the camera and start taking pictures.
Cowgirl exits, people sit, and teams crowd the staging area in preparation for the first event, cattle mugging. Two teams of four idle at the centre of the arena, lariats at the ready. Four cows, or cattle, or whatever the hell one calls them, press against each other at the far end of the thing. A siren blares, the horses charge, the cattle scatter.
Mugging is exactly how it sounds: the riders chase down and lasso the cow, with three of them dismounting and tackling the thing as soon as it’s snagged. The object is to upend the bovine and tie three of its legs together in the fastest amount of time, a process generally easier to describe than do. Packs of similarly dressed men in hats throw themselves at their cow, variously trying headlocks, tripping, and other sorts of wrestling-type actions which distastefully remind me of the dorms.
Once downed, the cow usually just lays there and takes it. Occasionally a solid kick is thrown, sending a cowboy to earth. After it’s all done and said, the dusty, shit-streaked lads untie and release the dopey thing, mounting their horses as it retreats back to the corral. Blaring classic rock and a shouting, screaming audience make it all seem the more brutish and unnecessary.
To what end, this thing? do I wonder of it all. Food, I suppose. This foreign world I’ve entered is the land of food production. Every burger, every steak, every chop and cutlet is married to this bestial enterprise, with its inherently underlying aggression. There’s a measure of contempt as well, embodied by the cowhands’ slap sticks used to get the cattle’s attention. ‘Treated like cattle’, which to my urban mind sort of denoted being harried in a group, I now can see is more faeces-ridden and degrading a state.
A biting fly benignly adheres itself to my lapel, and I crush it. It ruptures like a bloody grape, the stuff sticking to these fingers and leaving an indelible mark of its existence on my shirt.
In and out, I’m surrounded by horses. Focusing my camera, I try to ignore them, their black bug eyes embedded in long faces, curiously snuffling at my person. I guess another fear is being bitten by one, which I’ve no idea is a valid concern.
Wave after wave of cattle tackling, mugging, tying down. The event moves to mock branding, which is like mugging, except the time stops when cold iron touches cow. Cycling in, rushing out, eventually the horsemen are all shifted away back into the arena, with a lengthy trailer wheeled up alongside me. The aroma of fresh shit is palpable.
This is filled with proper cows, of the teaty, albeit longhorned variety. Slap-stick, slap-stick, jiggle and shout, they get herded on out into the arena for the next competition, the wild cow milking. My heart’s not in it anymore though, the novelty just about worn away. Milking is also similar to the mugging and play branding, only with the addition of udder squeezing set to “Pretty Woman”.
I put away my camera, breaking out the pad and pen, dreggy feelings percolating before the torrential scrawl. On paternalism. Rough speech and barks and swift blows to the head, ‘treated like cattle’. Of apes, and men, and the foundations upon which society is built upon. Is it all immoral, or are most of us too far removed from reality to properly judge?
The rodeo has been a depressing thing, but still less so than a circus elephant. Frankly, I’ve no idea why that is.