Friday, August 28, 2009

Chapter 17

Fucking humid again. I haven't quite adapted to the weather on the East Coast, but it's awful. The West Coast spoils a person, it stays hot but dry, yet the people on the East Coast are a bit more flesh and blood to me. There's something stronger about them. If it has something to do with the elements it would make sense, because here people don't float as easy as they do where I live. The downside to that is there's a hardness I've noticed in certain strangers, but when you're away from your city you notice strangers easier. I hadn't been to Washington DC because it never crossed my mind in the last 20 years of driving and working. I was having breakfast on 36th in Baltimore and it occurred to me that DC was the only main place in the states that I hadn't seen. Jules was off from her shift at the ER and we drove into New Carrollton, where we took the train into DC, and get out around one in the afternoon. Right when you walk up from the subway, you hit the sidewalk and see DC. I wanted to be swept up and shocked by a wave of begrudging patriotism, but I wasn't. The architecture is beautiful, though, and the city is certainly beautiful. I wonder how many times a day your photograph is taken here. It's not only humid, but it's hot and like a fucking idiot, I wear jeans and a black shirt. Jules is pointing out which directions are what, what we pass to get to this place, this museum, that museum. I think if the place was less crowded, I'd have a better time with it. Jules tells me that this is a slow day in DC. I look around at the families and the foreigners, and they are excited to be here. I'm also excited to be here, but I'm mostly excited that it maybe completes my checklist of America, if I had one.

Not to say here that it's not breath taking to see the nation's capitol. It is. It's one of the most impressive things I've seen that's been made by man. The history of centuries is here, in the air, the soil. It's a proud scene if you see it from where I see it. I have a special bond with this country because I chose it as a home, literally, the road and the cities and towns are where I grew up. And in the process, I had to avoid the fucking hippies, avoid any type of typecast a traveler gets: nomad, gypsy, "on the road" -all of that bullshit.

Thing is, in a place like America, you can fucking do ANYTHING. You can lose and be comfortable, you can win and be comfortable. You can tell your boss to fuck off if you choose to do so. You can succeed by merely being attractive, with no talent. If you simply know someone, you can make it. Hell, if you have enough money you can even get away with murder or beat a fatal disease. There is mercy and no mercy, there is a ton of corruption and special interest, and millions of people stupid enough to spend money on shitty music or bad television. That being said, I'm all for this country. I could be a cynical writer spouting off about how fucked up the system is, how bad the poor get it up the ass and so on, but walking around DC I think about how a black dude sits in office and I laugh because it still blows me away, even now. I remark to Jules about how if he hadn't of won, I'd be really fucking embarrassed. But mostly I'm for this country because anyone, and I mean anyone, can make it well here, and too many people focus on what's wrong with the scene, and too many people beat themselves down when others elsewhere wipe their asses with their hands and live in dirt fields.

We leave the Lincoln Monument and see the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and then we're sitting on a ledge facing the Washington Monument. We've just spent three dollars on water. It's like an outdoor movie theater, these prices. I stare across the field at the White House. I'm sweating like a whore in church. We walk DC and I shoot photos and look at the statues and columns and design and history and gawk at the place like everyone else.

We're in the National Archives Museum and I'm staring at The Magna Carta. It's the first thing to really hit me in the gut since I've been here. This was written in the 13th century. The Constitution and the Declaration Of Independence were one thing, but here sits the Magna Carta. I'm eyelocked on the document. Jules and I are looking at the print, the beauty of it, and then we're walking toward the Capitol Building. Jules and I are talking about her family, her job as a doctor. I try to imagine having a job like that. We pass some tour group
and she says, "On Book Meets Road, why did you mention the boring stories about the ER?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, I mean the flashlight up the guy's ass was alright, but you didn't mention the guy who cut off his penis. Twice. Remember that story? He cut if off again after it was sewn back on."
"Now I remember. Goddamnit. I'll mention it for chapter 17. I promise."
She laughs, "Good."
A guy coasts past us on a cheap mountain bike with a cooler hanging off it. He does a small skid and looks at us, "Y'all want some ice cold water?"
I looked at the cooler, "How much?"
"Two dollars."
"Fuck it. We'll take one."

I give Jules the first hit. She drinks, hands it over and I slam half of it. I've been eating terribly on the road. The water hits my system like freezing rain. We walk, stop, cool off, walk into a museum, walk up to the Capitol Building, walk into more museums, the Sculpture Gardens. I can't stop staring off at the skylines. It's time for me to leave this part of the country, that old feeling of economy sinks in. Not financially, but the economy of motion, of time. The sun is finally setting and our skin is red. My knee is talking back from an injury well over a year old. We're walking back to toward the subway. We've walked 4 or 5 miles, according to Jules. I argue 10 miles and she laughs at me. We make a stop into the Air And Space Museum and I touch a piece of the moon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chapter 16

One person out of every ten is a junkie in Baltimore. This has to be a truism, because I hear it here constantly, but I am staying up in the Hampden neighborhood by 36th Street where Atomic Books sits diagonal on Falls Rd. You see a glimpse of the wreckage here, but I get the feeling it is becoming what NW 23rd became in Portland, a shopping nightmare. At the moment one could liken 36th to Portland's Alberta St or Mississippi. But even North Mississippi, back in its day is like a fucking candyland compared to Wilkens in Baltimore, where I was lucky enough to wind up when I first pulled into town at 11 pm. Half naked babies running around in the streets, trash and laundry scattered, blue theft lights flashing on the walls of corner buildings, block long housing developments partitioned only by lighter or darker coats of paint, or no paint at all. I am hauling an old trailer behind the mini van. One look into my ride, they catch a glimpse of me and my dogs and they know I'm not only safe to drive past them, but also worth nothing if they robbed me. I spend time in Fells Point quite a bit. I stopped into the tattoo museum, fell greatly disappointed and took a drive around the city, where I drove down Baltimore, where the strip of sex clubs and such rest above the old and beaten street, the drifting by of addicts, of fiends.

I am staying with my friend, Bex, here in Baltimore. She has a nice place and a great dog named Sasha. I get to meet Jules, her ER doctor friend, and I find myself at her house where I meet her husband, Leslie, and another friend of theirs, Lisa, and her boyfriend, Bob. It's good to be outside with them. It's humid and hellish but it's good to be there. The kids are in bed and Jules is showing me how to crack and eat a crab. Peel the penis/tab back, break the shell off, clear out the lungs and parts and mustard, get the legs, all of it. We're sitting around breaking and eating crabs and listening to Jules tell stories about her job at the ER in Johns Hopkins. It's good. One involves a flashlight up a guy's ass. Another is about a lonely freak who has tied a tourniquet around his thigh for attention. And more come about the prostitutes and misanthropes, but also some heart breaking tragedy. Yet she remains upbeat and sensitive. I sit there and look around the table. Baltimore. Two months into the tour now and I feel like something big is still upon me. It's the air or the pulse or something, but there is something big moving toward me. I can't tell if it's the big finale or a big break or something bad or good or great. But something is out there and it has me locked in.

I walked around Fells Point the next day and shot photos. It's like a huge version of Chinatown in Portland. I draw a lot of similarities to the two cities, but mostly I like it here because it reminds me of how Portland used to be, the edge it once had, and I walk around and drink my coffee and watch the birds circle the water out there over the harbor. It's the death of man, I think to myself, the darkening of life through missing things that have no meaning today. My mind is on an ex-girlfriend, my childhood dog, Sugar, my dead parents and a whole different heap of bad shit. The water does that to me, it flushes out depression, and it reminds me that I'm older now, that I walk the stones of cities and every year the ground gets older. I walk to the edge of the water and sit. It's humid today, blood boiling humid. I get another coffee at The Daily Grind on Thames. I'm down to three cups a day now. I get in the van and check out Little Italy and then the Inner Harbor. There's something about Baltimore I can't quite explain in detail. It's a feeling here, not the feeling of freedom that Portland still kind of has, but the vibe here is like a cross between Brooklyn and Vegas, but better than both.

On 36th in Hampden you will see some pretty impressive shops and transgenders. Johns Hopkins was the first in the country to perform sex changes, and they do a pretty fucking good job. They're not like Santa Monica cross dressing hookers who look good from a distance, they are the real deal. I met a girl at Common Ground and the only thing that gave her away was my instinct. She had no tells saving her height. Not that it matters, but I don't think I could ever be with a woman who was once a man, but that's me. I'm old school. Or an asshole. Either way. But I thought about her later when I was drinking a tea outside of 7 eleven. To be trapped in a body that wasn't meant for you has to be a living hell. I also thought about the level of courage it takes to permanently change your body's sex, regardless of anything. I decided that I would've done the same thing if I had been her.

It's not so much the oddity of Baltimore for me as it is the oddity of life right now. Everything is waxed together into a long line of waiting, a long and jagged spine whose edges has been sharpened by decades of listlessness, by hours of await, by wind and fire within us. I have traveled this country for well over twenty years, constantly avoiding traps. I drive now with my dogs and with an arsenal of books from which to grow the company. I see a rotting and changing world upon us, grinning at our feet and we just stand there and fucking take it. The end of the flower doesn't matter, the wren that falls to death, the coyote that hits the dust for the last time, none of it matters because none of it has to do with our lives or what we long for. I drive and count the hours, I get to a town and I stay for a while and sell some books and meet some very good people, but there's something eating at me and I can't place it.

Last night I laid in bed and read my own novel, cover to cover. It's the first time I have read it without a break. Then I put a DVD in my laptop, a two-disc feature on the lives of serial killers. I found it in a 5 dollar bin in Peoria. I turned off the light and closed the laptop until it hit my glasses, so the DVD wouldn't shut off but the light from the screen was minimized to a soft glow. I closed my eyes and listened to experts break down serial killers, whether or not they can be rehabilitated.
"They need to just kill the fuckers," I hear a voice say next to me.
I nod at the road, "I know. The minute one of those motherfuckers puts his thoughts into action, they need to be snuffed out. I mean how the fuck do you saw a human in half, let alone a child?"
I look over at the guy. I don't know him, but he's cool as fuck, dark black hair combed back, chiseled features, black suit and emitting charisma. He lights a smoke and smiles at me, and his eyes are electric with hatred. He offers me a smoke.
"Quit years back," I tell him. He shrugs and puts the pack in his
suit pocket. He blows the smoke through the glass of my passenger window, and it travels through the glass in the shape of a worm, and it circles through the red and orange sky around us, which confirms that I'm dreaming, and it also confirms that the devil is good to look at. He smiles at me, "I don't give a fuck about the child, the man, the men or the fucking numbers, I just think they need to kill the fuckers because then I get to actually have some fun."
I look over at him. He shrugs and stares ahead, "It's my job, man. It gets fucking boring what I do."
I stare over the road ahead of me, and the road is lava but it's also laughable. I don't know where I'm going. I know that Freud would have a fucking field day with me right now. I hear a chain dragging behind the van and it gets louder with each line in the road, each second it grows louder and it's coming up behind me. I reach back to grab it and I'm sitting up in bed. Chico is scratching at his neck and his collar and tag are loud as fuck. I look around the dark and restart the DVD for white noise. I lay back and rest my hand on his head. He's a good dog. Being with Meg and I on the road has been good for him. It has to be hard for him to play second string to Meg, but that's the way it is. And he's fine with it. I used to regret rescuing him, like the last thing I needed was another dog, but when I saw his face there on the sidewalk in West Phoenix, I knew I had to do it, I had to get him out of there. He saw me coming a mile away, that's for damn sure, but now it's been almost 4 years and he's family.

I once lived in York, PA for four months back at the end of 2004. I lived there because I had a chance to ride with Kevin Jones, who is the best flatland BMX rider on earth. No matter how much the sport progresses, and no matter how much better some rider might get than him, Jones will always be the best out there because he laid the groundwork for flatland. Without him the art would be years behind itself. I've made the drive to York almost every day this last week to ride with him, as he is there visiting his parents. He and his wife, Nikki have a son now, Reese, and they are in York until Monday, so I drive the 40 minutes gladly to ride there at the old spot, with Kev, Diggy, Ivan and Mike Tittle. Newcomers hit and leave the scene, but they remain columns in the York legend. It's good to be on the bike again. I hyper-extended my right knee over a year ago and it still isn't right. So I can ride about 50 percent as hard as I used to ride and about 30 percent as long. The days of 6 hours sessions are over until I can fucking afford surgery or therapy. I haven't even seen a doctor about it, and insurance is out of the question. Yet I pay taxes and do the right things. Go America.

So far, Baltimore has felt like the most familiar spot on this tour. Mostly because the people here are friendly, even the junkies. Today I was driving around downtown and this homeless lady spots me from across the street from a stoop and walks in front of the van, waves and walks around. I roll the window down. She smiles at me,
"You got a cigarette?"
"Don't smoke, baby."
"Well then how about a dollar or some change?"
"Don't work, either."
She leans her head back and laughs, "Shiiiit. You gotta do something."
"I'm a writer."
"Oohhh. Gotcha, honey. Have a good one."
I watch her walk back to the stoop and sit down. She says something to her friend and they both wave at me. I wave back. It's too funny for laughter. A horn honks behind me and I weave around downtown, get on 83 North and head back to the house. New York City sits nicely on the horizon.