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.

1 comment:

  1. At some point, you need to get that Jackson Browne song, "Running on Empty." I know, it's cliche, but... It's cliche for a reason.

    Naw, forget it. Get "Damnation, " by Opeth.

    Thanks for the update, as usual it is great.