Particulates of black waxy foam bits are clinging to my hands, under my eyes, there is a sweep of them crushed into the skin of my neck. I rub at them halfheartedly; they are petulant tiny coals. I recall the disintegrating steering wheel in the 2000 Saturn wagon I had just been gripping, it’s grinding moans.
Three summers prior my mother and I sat beneath the glass canopy of the Saturn’s front wind shield, presenting ourselves mercilessly to rolling black asphalt for 2400 miles. It beamed up at us, lagging it’s giant tongue from La Grange to Mesa. We had a true destination. She imparted recreational drug cautions; I languidly stared. In unspoken strategy, we constructed a wall of Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cups on the dash to conceal us. Their hollow bodies slowly softened, concave, from the heat.
In Texas my mother received a ticket and cried. We silently ate hot fudge peanut buster parfaits from Dairy Queen. I decided that I truly disliked Texas.
Outside of Las Cruces I was awoken by a border patrol officer. He rapped on the window above me in the backseat, projecting a demand only mildly muffled by the plastic auto body. “Is this your mother?”. I extracted myself from a sweltering canopy of clothing paraphernalia, my bra displaced beneath my chin, shorts twisted. “What”? My face contorted beneath the glare of halogen lights.
For some reason I had christened the car Sonny although I do not like Sonny nor Cher very much. Most people mistook the name for Sunny.
I read somewhere that three deep breaths reintroduces serotonin to the brain. Crossing the corner of a lawn, I am left with the tinge of warm manure in my nostrils. How disappointing. It’s the same disappointment I feel as I look at the new neighboring homes. The cicadas and crickets, or whatever small insect like creatures that were the source of this high pitched frequency, boomed. All of these faux plastic geese and deer interminably in mid step, mid graze.
There are three people standing mid way up the street. I can’t see their faces since large portions have been effectively blacked out, but their unwavering stance denotes expectation.
Oh Mary Mack, silver buttons, fifty cents, elephants, fourth of July; my wooden shoes slap the concrete in angry contrast. Black poly blend silk grates my inner thigh. Will they turn to see me approaching? Are they expecting me? I glint self consciously. A woman in a red wig disappears beyond the field.
I take decisive glances at the parts of their faces that remain as I pass them. They have unconsciously formed a linear progression at the moment of curvature in the sidewalk. 2:26.
I join their tableau, eager to appear as disparately unified as they. Scalding earth pushes up at my soles. Plywood burns beautifully. Tell me, why so flat? I see that the others stand in small patches of shade, that there is shade enough for three people. I hold Ionesco to my forehead to blacken my eyes, in salute of solidarity, waiting. I feel uncertain of the veracity of this moment as being non-manipulated, despite the overt ordinariness of the image content. All this blinding sharpness, extreme detail - hyper realized. I never liked realism, such a dry heat.
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There were some things that I came to understand at that point. Most importantly that Jesus Christ was an alien, which is simply saying he came from where we are going as a species (for some reason we call that an alien b/c it freaks us out). But it was a needed time travel by him to lead us in the right direction as a species. I could hobo. But I digress at this point.
Woman standing on the side of the road in front of a drainage ditch; she’s wearing a long once navy blue jersey shift dress. She is standing with her chest pointed outward and up, gently swaying to her own charm, certain stance in front of the woven aluminum fence and littered slope. A significant amount of space is contributed to developing the scenery around her.
I am talking out the window in multiple conversations, tongue tingling uncomfortably from reasons unbeknownst to me. Some people say it was the scallops. Visions of red silk dress shirts and finely creased cuffs with tiny buttons. It feels inappropriate to wear such high gloss red clothing in the summer, I said. “I really don’t think it matters”, he said.
Before, vehicles and people crossing spaces extravagantly, heads down. I can see tiny squares of short wavelength blue light curving their spines downward, inverted semi colons in midday sun. The intermingling of warm and cool light sources can produce a curious paling effect.
“Definitely a holiday color”.
At the most downward point in the asphalt lull I meet her gaze, full frontal, in the space between physical descent and forced upward motion. She bares her teeth, smiling knowingly, a horizon of feral shrubbery and unkempt land extending from her in all directions. I remain motionless as we accelerate forward, consciously memorizing large white spaces with center sculptures, recognizing lost opportunity.
When I was eight I thought ******* was a barren and exotic land and I drew flat colored pencil renderings of teepees in expansive two dimensional landscapes. This was mimed while I lay belly down on faux blended white acrylic carpeting. A voided outline of what I presumed to form the general shape of a saguaro always hovered within the frame; carnegiea gigantea often translated at my hand as green noodly armed men. I still think of them this way, as the tall living sarcophagi for lost persons. They stand too tall, writhe too gesturally.
Over Christmas we boarded the 2000 Venture MiniVan and drove to Mesa, a nearly two week migration over 1,800 miles - a twenty six hour drive. I was told that “mesa” meant “table”. Our first stop in Arizona was a Sonic and I traced roadrunners and cactus and long eared jack rabbits on one of those paper children’s placemats while corn dogs and tater tot detritus accumulated on the table around me.
The house we moved into was dirt pink and I burned my hand on the beige industrial plastic at the park next door. I carried water gallons with Ellen from a neighbor’s outdoor hose to fill the toilets and rinse our hands until the water was turned on. People from the “cul-de-sac” came to say hello. I felt cheated and bemused and was convinced that table was a poignant designation for this place.
There are wide pink bands on the backs of my thighs that look like reversed fleshy stockings, cruising staff style up into my shorts. I can’t see them but I know they’re there. I am particularly sensitive to momentary burns.
The man across from me on the 320 in the “I have 99 problems but a bench ain’t one” shirt that I couldn’t help but read as he boarded the bus is staring at me and frowning. I want to turn around and look at the pink lines. “What’s up” I say, “I’m not looking at you” he says.
Pleather is the perfect suburban accessory. They look so perfectly faux in blinding midday cement.
I am reading this book I have read before and the words are being seared into my brain not because they are profound, or I recall them, but because it is so fucking bright outside and they are literally black stains on the white page. It hurts. When I close my eyes there they are, blinking in aggressive shades of maroon, all prose meaning completely subsumed by the resonance of irritable visual stimuli. Is this what it means to look into the sun? What does medium specificity have to do with cement? I can feel the plastic gel cushions shaped like oversized cashews oozing from behind my heels. The viscous material fills the cracks in my feet.
We once spent two hours looking for a lost tooth in the bottom of a pool, while bright neon flotation devices cast long shadows on the bottom of the cement surface. Above, a dog house shaped like an igloo glared sarcastic white in the afternoon.
A tall white sign letters “in go dis trust” and I press two index fingers to my sinuses to relieve pressure as I walk by. I recall how glochids, tiny, hair-like barbed spines, feel when they are lodged in the palm of my hand. Pins. I suspect passersby find this to be an abnormal gesture, for I am vain. Over the hill, a lawn mower is being pulled backwards.
“No one is looking at you”; I smooth, pat myself on the heads several times.
Yesterday, a man in red tried to break into an unmoving vehicle across the street. We watched each other, and he hid behind the only available tree for several minutes. Shortly, he lit a cigarette and walked away.
12:24PM “Was there still any bleeding last night?”
Anonymous messages appear in the upper right corner of the “24 screen at work. I suspect they are the woman’s who sits behind me. I decide to say nothing.
Go dis trust, elbows extend from both sides of my head, framing my face in a sideways diamond and I enjoy the private vignette of interior elbow fat blurring the corners of my vision. Arriving, the room smells like alcohol but I know there’s an apple core accidentally fermenting in a humid paint bucket by the door. I hope no one notices.
Splitting warm oranges interrupt the track, disavowed from the pregnant tree that grows behind the bleached cement wall. They crowd the widest point across the green, flaccid and heavy with pulp, deceivingly tasteless from overexposure. I envision throwing one, and wonder, if you never looked into a mirror, would you know your eye was circular?
It is difficult to ascertain speed in a stagnant environment.
Large cement tunnels emerge at five points in the park, their gaping holes disturbing the luminous grass where the slope of the hill approaches flatness. Above them, looping the perimeter of the shapely HOA park, is a thin sandy track where tiny pebbles and other debris have accumulated to form an infinitely enclosed journey. Noontime, and the track looks pink. Orange is disturbing fluorescence.
Infrequent texas sage bushes in the shape of miniature sloping hills and red yucca are planted in front of the 10 ft. bleached cement brick walls that contain the park arena. Silent groundskeepers tend to them at dawn but do not touch burgeoning fruit. It is abrasively sunny and looking usually causes temporary magenta blindness.
A man in shiny athletic shorts could frequently be seen power walking this circuit, his tight leathered flesh propelling him round the green, hands spastically blinking before him, nonsynchronous. Indiscriminate folds of skin sagged at his sides. The cement tunnel batons marked his infinitely looping progress and if you were sitting on one of the tan hard plastic benches that leaves red diamond lattice on the back of your thighs? you could see tiny sandstorms cloud his ankles.
To prevent cataracts, it is best not to stare at anything too long.
Somewhere, Almay “Berry” Slick-On lip stain is flaking off the lips of twelve dehydrated young women and in the distance is the sound of a cubic zirconia earring falling into a hot cup of coffee. Cloudy drops of sweat infused with purple smelling hairspray are drying behind my neck and I feel overly illuminated in this cavernous beige hallway. Have you ever been compelled to rock the sides of a vending machine, willing the fall of some composite snack?
Red sears my throat; I glimpse it as I press the lower part of my palm against my right eye. You know, the fat meaty part of the hand used to cup things, press against, hold on. It fits snuggly into my socket, but does not belong there. Strawberry Moon, first day of Summer. I choke as more red ignites up my esophagus, elect to keep my eyes closed until I lay down on white tile. It’s pleasant to have astrological clues for when to gather ripening fruit.
A floor length mirror reflects a disorderly pale mass rising up from gleaming geometric planes of home design and I find refuge in this familiar debasement, watching as the recumbent naked figure dabs a soft white square at their face. Is that wing sauce or oxygenated blood? Such paleness seems incongruent with rising heat. Red singes my nose while form and function are best considered at the base of a porcelain bowl.
In 2002 my dad left the golf course business and began work at as an account manager for Open Works, a franchise of Facilitec, who he used to scrub the grease off of restaurant exhaust systems at night for. This meant that I no longer could collect violent green golf balls and shine them for quarters and that my dad smelled like Fabuloso and drove a windowless van. Later on he also acquired a white Jeep Cherokee.
He said that if he writes a memoir, it will be called Driving in Cars.
One of my dad’s work partners in Mesa wore a soaked business suit in his car everyday so that the hot air would slowly cool him, evaporation style. In passing, my dad mentioned the salt from the man’s body quickly imbued the navy suit with white sediment deposits and that his gait was pre-empted by a threatening crunching sound. The same thing happened to our towels. It was an unspoken caution when drying oneself off to rub slowly, as the sun had dried the absorbing terrycloth fibers to hardened sharp nodules and sun towel lacerations require difficult explanations. Eventually, my mother left the towels on the line all afternoon and they simply cracked in half. I presume the man’s suit faced a similar fate.
A hand lifts into a swatch of light, fingers suspended momentarily before a disposable surgical face mask, and long finger shadows are enlarged and then vanish as the 100 rounds a corner. I hope someone else has noticed this single decisive moment. Eyes cast down staring at pant hems and concaving sheer socks but I cannot satisfy such voyeuring indulgence save for the seepage of pale pink feet standing at my right. I commiserate with their bulbous expanse outside of the constricting bounds impressed by tarnished nude pleather. How unjust to be tightly compressed within colorless composite material!
Above, the upper echelon of skin and appendages stumble, sway, composure tethered to a black plastic strap. I recall tearing boiled chicken legs into small pieces and the slime of white antibiotic meat. Dogs have such a banal existence.
Another cement corner, I am choking on stale air, and those pink oozing islands. 5 passengers depart at 38th; I uncross and re-cross my legs, unsure of where to look.
They are awaiting my arrival in their respective sports lounge wear outside of gate 38, fluorescent lighting and near grey flooring casting an unattractive pallor onto their thin faces. Laugh lines and pointed chins are safe places to rest my eyes. Their resemblance to one another is disrupted only by two feet, 31 years, and quasi inevitable gender variances.
One armed hugs are exchanged, a single fist bump, and a redistribution of baggage.
I am provided mini ham and cheese sandwiches on soft white rolls, crunchy peanut butter granola bars, and a miniature red apple from a square blue zip-up cooler that sits between the seats in the suburban. I eat two of the sandwiches and only one half of the granola bar because the taste of semi melted cheese slices on packaged ham is the flotation device I have been looking for. The apple smells of wax.
******* is telling long and excitable renditions of Important Moments In Her Life and late night sports shows murmur like the passing thoughts of street lights. I am listening to the air conditioner blow persistently against a paper on the floor mat. I consider the sorts of questions I might ask them.
Our room at the Holiday Inn Express is maroon themed. Reddish brown carpet, drapes, thin rayon duvets, and squat plastic ice buckets; it even smells of that deep hue - acrid and warm. I line my third of the bed with towels.
In the middle of the night a resonant gurgling from the bathroom sink disrupts my sleep, a silent investigation revealing a smattering of colorful foreign matter emerging from drain. Curiously, in the morning all evidence of this regurgitation is gone, the bowl a barren white. What a strange secret, I think.
We arrive for Continental Breakfast promptly, waiting in our respective lines for variously shaped bread products. I opt to fish out a pre-peeled hard boiled egg from an icy tub near the coffee urn. There are at least two dozen and I feel obliged to take one as none of the other continental patrons are eating them. This is called catholic guilt. It is a second hand condition.
I carry my egg with freshly applied salt and pepper flakes from tiny paper packets in a deep Styrofoam bowl to the car. At the stop sign near the exit I open the car door and spit the egg out and put the bowl on the asphalt. We keep driving.
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Hot metal swings into my arm rendering my flesh briefly wounded and I remember the pool of melted fine chocolate that sloshes in the center console where my elbow rests. It is molten and mingles aromatically with moth and pragmatically shitty coffee and the Burgeoning Must. Somewhere, croissant crumbs are reconstituting themselves in sweat and flesh. C’est moi? A grey tubular minivan, imitation rocks, so much clear shiny lip gloss in my front pocket. “La Bamba” plays on repeat. Should I wave?
I watch the grey tubular mobile shimmer as it careens slowly across black asphalt. I can’t tell if it is moving forward or backwards, so bright and flat is it’s horizon. I wonder if she knows the mechanized sliding door no longer opens. The sedate beating of blood in my fingers denotes false dramatic foreboding and I likewise careen forward or backward. Now, once more, with feeeeling! They say it’ll really take it out of you.
Half hearted “Berry Blend” Lantana and Bird of Paradise shrubs mark every three feet along the route, unchanging in size and bloom year round. I suppose 360 days of direct sunlight acts as a preservative. It is a miracle they grow out of these tiny chemically hued landscape rocks.
The man in small metallic purple shorts power walks toward me and I make large strides to avoid his tight shimmying flesh. Ever smiling shrubs keep time with our swinging arms. I can feel blood pumping inside of my ear.
At the corner is a Walgreens and next to that is a strip mall, which if you walk farther you can then see Sonic and some For Lease! Malls of America and a nameless auto shop we once brought the 200 Venture mini van to. Across the street is a Fry’s grocery.
Tiny waves form a levitating convection river. I buy a phone at Verizon with cash from a cellophane envelope and I am theoretically embarrassed that my matted hair has dried to my forehead. 480,353,6442, 480, 353, 6442.
Raw pink hands swing distended from my body forward and backward, their pulsing weight propelling me forward. Lantana stares cruelly up at me, its mega watt hue transfixed like a thousand tiny suns, each of the upturned globular blooms reminders of a heat index I can readily feel on the back of my neck. I consider calling someone but instead just hold the phone to my ear.
Last night I had a dream that a massive wave rose up from the edge of the road. In slow motion it arced over the expanse of road and surreptitiously ascended onto a panicked congregation of unmoving vehicles. I watched the organic ingestion of human calamity over the edge of my steering wheel. I was being consumed by a wave. Briefly, it occurred to me that I should attempt an escape, flee the painful crushing and eventual drowning that this cataclysmic wave was sure to alight. My rational dream thinking self hoped it wouldn’t be painful. In fact, felt resolute and placid that my coffin would be a car underwater.
Excerpts from MANUFACTURING SITE (2016)