Sunday, January 31, 2010
Quality was a comic publisher that put out a fair amount of books in the 40s, and I just yesterday learned of Madam Fatal. Rather, the fact that Madam Fatal was the first cross-dressing hero, as I did know of the character by name. DC purchased Quality's heroes in 1956, but as could be expected, the character was never used, although many Quality heroes were never used, and many were only mentioned by name.
The character was created by Art Pinajian, whose other creation, the Invisible Hood, was more well-known. As with Fletcher Hanks, Pinajian's collected body of work may soon see publication, and he also had a fair amount of noteriety as an abstract painter. For the most part, Richard Stanton, who had a pedigree in theater, dressed up as an old woman, surprising bad guys by using a walking cane as a quarterstaff. His impetus for fighting the good fight was to get clues on which bad guy had kidnapped his gal. This was never resolved, most likely because there'd be no reason for the character to go on, but no, truth was the comic he appeared in was cancelled, as so many were after WWII ended. Somehow, westerns became big, before all the science-fiction of the early 50s. And there you have it, the story of Madame Fatale
Saturday, January 30, 2010
A few shots here of State and Lake, the first from the Chuckman Collection of Postcards, and the shot of the State/Lake at night by Tom Jelen. At the time I wrote The Holy Terror in 1988-9, nothing from that top postcard remained, aside from a bare bones Shoppers Corner. Where you see that portion of signage next to Burgerbar, that is Block 37, and so you've seen Mammy's, the Trailways and Greyhound depots, and the various theaters and greasy spoons intersecting just to the left off-camera. But in 1989, the State-Lake was closed, as was the Chicago. I can't recall ANY of these places, the Burgerbar, The Flame, or the dubious sounding Michelob Restaurant.
What is there now are housing for art school students and the Gene Siskel theater, with the entire buildings being built from scratch. The State-Lake is the 190 North building, the HQ for our ABC affiliate.
But I want to describe an image. From when the other, smaller buildings stood. I was working in the Loop in 1984, when there was no el train towards my home, and the massive buses actually had to trundle along I-55 to Pulaski Road. The buses all ran down State southward to Cullerton and Archer where we stayed on the Dan Ryan Expressway for about seven seconds before hitting I-55, the Stevenson. Trust me, it was like watching a movie where they tried to cram as many unseemly backgrounds--Chinatown, auto junkyards, freeway off-ramps--as possible into a, well, actually it was often an hour long ride once we hit the expressway. I learned to leave my job and walk northward to Lake Street and wait for the bus there. It was the second stop on the route and I was always baffled by anyone I knew from Adams Street being on the bus all pissed off that they were standing along with 75 other people in the aisles.
See that building next to the one with the fire escape? That is, well, it WAS 162 No. State. And for several years there was a bright balloon tied to the fire escape, red or orange faded to pink. It wasn't afloat, mind you. It was just there, the string possibly tangled with the fire escape next door. The balloon eventually deflayted and actually looked like a burnt candle hanging three stories up. One day it was gone, certainly not from anyone coming around to clean things up. I never thought to take a photo because at the time, that wasn't my bag. Buildings, sure. But not balloons floating like weighted lanterns.
Well, I'm glad I finally got that story out of the way. It actually seemed more boring as I continued typing. I do promise to get to the story about the guy with the knife in the Trailways bathroom soon. Oh, and the guy with the knife? That was me, trying to commit suicide.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Actually, the ads have nothing to do with this. No, really? But think about it, kids actually ate crap they baked in a goofy plastic thing. I'll bet this is where some of the lesser known fast food joints got their ideas. Me, I'd shove the bowling figure in the oven, judging him for all his bowling sins. And fashion wear. Yea, its all in black ink, but we know what colors he is wearing. Wait. What am I thinking? I own bowling shirts! Let's just stick with the fact that the guy cheated on the scorecard and his wife, even though he is a piece of plastic attached to a metal stick. I can say what I want here. Attica! Attica!
OK, on to the main event. You all know that I ripped my printer/scanner/unused fax machine apart in December Just Because. It was like an abusive robot lover. So I'm left with taking photos with my webcam. And so we get to this flyer for a Beer and Breast Fest sponsored by the Outlaws. It is all wrinkled and presumably had blown around and gotten stuck in a patch or our icy snow. I know it blew from somewhere else, because our block is composed of polaks and lugans, and no one really wants to be anywhere near 26th & Rockwell, let's leave it at that. Note that on Rockwell on the north side, that there is Insane Unknown turf. How everything comes around on this blog. Dig this tho: the thing runs from January 15 thru February 26. This could be a typo, saw it happen at the plant. If the client signed off on the proof, even if I knew the mistake, he'd just pay again. Ah, commerce. Anyhow. Imagine a six week long party. I suppose it would be a happy party, because as you can read on the bottom, there are no guns or no bad attitudes allowed. 26th & Rockwell is amazingly close to Cook County Jail. Maybe the Fest is actually on the jail grounds? Naw, that couldn't be. Could it?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Fast Foos. I should have thought of that. Used to be The Russian Egg, back in the day. There was also a hot dog joint called U Dawg U and it is gone, I can't find a Google of it, so I have started using You Dog, You in my head. So for any of you writer types reading this, its in my head.
The Steger Building is next to that, closer to the el. An actual building with a name and not a number, even though, to those of us in the know, it is 28 West Jax. I went in there and snuck around once, lots of single offices and the like. The last photo I set on its side by mistake. I was playing with the shadows when I took the shot.
Monday, January 25, 2010
45 yesterday and a wonderful 8 as I type this. Its something you get used to, actually. In the subway at Randolph, I listened to this guy sing "Under The Boardwalk," then let one train go by so I could listen to "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." It started badly, but once you could hear the echoes it was incredible. I zoned in on the pattern of the platform tiles, the random colors on the walls. Wishing him well in two dollar increments. These are all photos from the Chicago pool on Flickr, I add two photos from my account per day, the limit. What I should do is get a photo of Bubbly Creek now, because it will NOT have ice blocks on it. Or in it. Whatever. Back to the el, the guy made my night.
I liked Bob's comment about his laughing at the thought of a zombie in the toilet bowl, but think on it. The house will vibrate starting at ten AM. Some days, nothing. Others, like last Wednesday, they were driving me nuts. So it would be like a zombie growling in the toilet, stuck inside for good. Hearing the gurgles is like hearing the whup whup whup. It should be noted that since the snow melted yesterday, I now have three huge bags of collie and corgi shit. I know this is a bad idea from the start, but tomorrow I might just throw one of the bags up in the air, right in front of it. My luck the bag would hit the rotor and fling it back down to me at a couple of miles an hour. Weekly Word News, hear I come.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
The Sun-Times headline was, of course, detailing the earthquake in Tahiti.The man, he told me his name was Fred, was sitting near where the Rialto SRO had been until it was demolished in the 90s. I had several photos I had taken inside the Rialto at the time, this one seems the only one to have survived over the years.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Yes, more helicopters. Or the same helicopter. Or my drugs on brain. This was Wednesday, the 13th. Our only sunny day this entire months. Now we've had some cloudless nights, but, really, so what? It's night in winter and, yes, maybe I can see a few stars, but again, it is winter in Chicago.
So I'm heading to the bus for my comic book fix up at Tenth Planet and all of a sudden, I can hear it coming. As the sun was higher than normal, it being closer to noon, it took me a second to see it, even though I knew exactly what trees it would appear from. The other two shots were good as I got some decent scenery from the other end of the block. For a change, I stood in the street, ice-covered as it was. I do have one photo of a rotor blade and a solid blue sky. But the story does not end here. I am on my way home, the last leg of a half-mile walk from the bus stop made shorter by zipping through the lot of the baptist church and, all of a sudden, there's the sound. I grab the camera, snap two shots, facing west, the second shows an apartment building where a truly yappy weiner dog lives. You should hear it in summer. I get inside, make lunch, bring it upstairs, turn on the computer, and even as it is booting up...there's the sound. I knew I had one photo left, so of course I took the photo. It's all second nature to me now, like if a zombie lived in my toilet bowl. I'd accept that, too.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Interrupting my memories of Block 37, I was reminded that 25 years ago today, our HIGH temperature was -27 with a wind chill of -77 degrees. Needless to say, a record. I worked downtown that day, just as I did when the temperature hit 106 in 1994, dressed in my monkey suit and tie. People have asked what it is like to be on an el train with the doors opening every few minutes, causing the temperature to drop ten degrees in just seconds, the cold carried by the passengers' clothing itself. I always say its like that final scene in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, you just stare at the guy across the aisle from you, waiting to see who closes their eyes from the cold first. January of 1985 was a bitch all around.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I found a few more shots of the Trailways depot, and tomorrow I'll tell you all a very odd story involving a knife and a bathroom. For now, let me discuss this ghost street. It is also known as the Spaniel Block, for reasons unknown to me. If you look at the black and white photo, you can see the taller building in the center of the block on the left (south). This is Ground Zero for my love of Block 37. The building was closed, it had been some sort of bank, or at least there was a smashed metal sign dangling near the roof. Remember metal signs? I guess if too many of them dangled and so that was that. But I used that vacant building as the Rainey Marclinn Home For the Handicapped, a kind of SRO for people in wheelchairs and crutches. This was in The Holy Terror. I'm so anal-retentive that I had to use actual vacant buildings for my fake settings.
I shall now discuss real life, back when I could actually bum around downtown at all hours because the buses pretty much ran all hours. The 62 Archer bus ran up State to Cullerton, then cut diagonal to Pulaski at 54th, and I could catch my last bus around 1 AM. Nowadays, that last bus is at about 11 PM. (And where I live now, that last bus is at 8:10 PM.) But there were two theaters, Woods and United Artists. I recall seeing this film, Frankenstein Island, that would have been cooler if it wasn't for the rats falling from the ceiling in front of the screen. Still a crazy film, though. Of course, Frankenstein wasn't in the film. Maybe I should make a film and call it, I don't know, Eva Mendes Island.
That sign that says BOOKS? I lived there. Really. They had pinball machines in back, and a billion porno novels in front of the joint. All categorized. Lonely housewives. Secretaries. Gay military. Non-gay military. Military housewives. And some straight up crazy novels. I have mentally beaten myself up over the years because I never purchased MY DACHSHUND, MY LOVER. It was one of those books with just a white cover and black artwork. On the plus side, if it can be called that, I still own NAZI CAMP FOR VIRGINS. Nothing bad there, aside from the title. It could have been in OUI or RASCAL, SIR! (Yes, that last one existed.) But mostly I played Captain Fantastic & The Browndirt Cowboy and the ones made by Williams where everyone in the artwork had arms and legs at 90 degree angles. There was a Burger King next door and often I couldn't eat because I blew my quarters on the games, and when I was older, my 25 cents times 5 or 10 bought me that one book and several black light posters. (I never bought LOVE CAMP ON WHEELS, but I did find it at a truck stop in Pennsylvania years later.) And you could always smell pot in that place. I smell it, just thinking about it. There are many stories about this ghostly block. Ask Rich Chwedyk. He could see the possibilities of turning Ray Milland's camper from PANIC IN YEAR ZERO in that love camp.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I ended up having to take the Orange Line to Midway and then grab a cab home, on a night during a week where I am the brokest I have been since last August. At least it was a nice cab ride, an elderly black guy in a white turtleneck had BBC on the radio. I didn't want to chance getting the 87th on the Red Line before my last bus as the subway was slowed to a halt because of a water leak on what I've since found to be the Harrison Street platform, ironically the same stop where I took my reflected photo last Monday. But even though it has been getting warmer by a degree or two, I wanted to just climb on up the steps from subway to street to platform and get on what amounts to a pretty cold train in winter, as the doors open and shut fairly quick and we are about three stories in the air. I'm a bit perturbed that I felt colder than I should have. Ah, well. I'm home now.
All of the above photos I've posted were taken from Skyscraper City's Chicago thread, and before I name the original poster, I'll make certain that I know that one poster isn't simply cut & pasting from another poster. Confusing, no? This, well, most of it, is Block 37. The Spaniel Block. The setting for my novel and the street where I ascend or descend from/to the subway. You see more of the north side of Randolph (with the old Greyhound depot) than the opposite side, much more evident in The Holy Terror, but there's the old Woods and United Artists theaters. Restaurants whose names I vaguely recalled from my college days. The Shoppers corner is now a Borders. I once waved a dildo around in the Shoppers Corner thinking it was a Star Wars light saber. True story. But check out the photo with the Trailways sign. When Greyhound moved up towards the U of I campus, it gobbled up Trailways with it. Right there at ground level. Mammy's. I LOVED that place, it always smelled like pancakes and maple syrup. You'd wait for the buses on the second floor, then walk down a side hallway. Mammy's wasn't just a depot diner, it was a decent size. I'll find more photos and look through more links over the next few days. After Bubbly Creek, Block 37 is the place I'd haunt next. And if they made cars the way the did in the 60s, I'd make myself learn to drive.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I figured what the heck, right? You might want to bookmark this as it is rather long. Took me two years of having the right kind of nightmares to move it along.
By Wayne Allen Sallee
The Sunrise Diner was located just off Indiana Route 24, leaving the interstate at the Lafayette/Delphi exit. It did not belong with the rest of the town, the small hick burg that was the third stopover for the carnival. But it was there just the same, past owners having done their best to create a homey atmosphere; the front windows lined with cute ceramic pigs and jugs of maple syrup. There was even a friendly clown in the corner window, marked down to $9.95 while the carnival was in town.
A thing out of a Faulkner novel, complete opposite to the Eye Opener Grill two doors west down the main street, where characters from the Lincoln Doolittle Hotel sat around a bar, recanting tales: Napier and his delusions of being a werewolf, Mitch Mamach telling everyone he was to blame for the massacre at Marnie’s out back of the Leavitt Street train yards in Chicago, Jimmy Trainor blabbing about human sacrifices on the eve of Elvis Death Day, humming the words to “Happy Endings” from IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR while he strops a knife across atrophied biceps, Willy Sid and Sal Mineola acting like hoodlums in a 1950’s film, each of them turning as one whenever a stranger was wheeled through the alley door. One for my baby and one for the road, the Grill served up nothing but casualties. Stretchers and wheelchairs lined up down Estrones Avenue. Dead cops named Selenium and Kane, killers with cute celebrity names like Painkiller and Every Mother’s Son, go goddamn figure. There is not one erstwhile American Dream in this entire hole. Fill them up and file them out, file them in white metal cabinets bought at Wal-Mart, clear white labels for toe tags.
I shoved my hands into my pants pockets, standing there in front of the Diner, shivering from the summer wind, a breeze chilled as the whisper of a woman’s goodbye, attempting to look meek. Smiling, I opened the door, the bell jingling against an old 7UP sign, the kind where it is a sideways red square with white lettering. The ‘U’ is scratched from where the bell hits against it. This time around, it is the only actual thing I can recall, the only tactile image I can remember. The glint of summer sunlight on a faded tin bell clapper.
I continually liken it to the thing you remember most about a past relationship, be it good or bad. The way the sex was sating or incestuous, or how the coffee tasted in the afternoon. Or the first laughter you hear once you know it is truly over.
I hear the bell, making a dull sound like a street person’s murmurs, and see the sunrise wink. I know that there are men—two, maybe three—rolling dice with blackened knuckles against an angled gray wall, and that the waitress was the girl of my fondest and darkest dreams.
The man behind the counter looks up. In later instances, I know that he has a tattoo on his bicep that reads SOUP BOSS. I start to tell him about the dream, and ask him directions to the carnival midway, when he pulls the shotgun
up into view with the force of a man shoveling snow the minute before his fatal heart attack.
I have to do this, you know, he says as the safety on the barrel is released. It’s conducted this way, or maybe it is more conducive, I sometimes forget the script; his face is a question mark and he shrugs and I hear a train whistle off in the distance. Both barrels go off and I am blown backwards through the window and spiral down into the hard bed and the springs beneath the sheets, I do not wake up the female body beside me and I slip into sleepless oblivion smothered by the smell of perfume and cotton candy.
The Soup Boss intrudes, running a pizza cutter across my spine, growling over and over. You Feel That? You Feel That?
Win the girl a prize.
I am on my way to the graveyard just to see her face when I hear the calliope music. I walk towards the sunrise, knowing that the diner could not possibly be named Marnie’s because there is no smell of cordite and blood in the false dawn’s breeze. I lost the last dregs of my virginity in the massacre in that diner on North Leavitt, or at least would have if given more time, but there is little time for me to regret anything as another of my fingers twitches into numbness.
Walking further, I step on something that cracks beneath my bare heel. I look down and am surprised to see a piece of Marnie’s after all: a pristine promotional photo of Deborah Walley in GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. Virgin but for the brain matter that is clotted to a small curled edge; while I stand and contemplate Marnie’s, near morning, the carnival rides light up, Tesla coils of yellow and red and the brightest of blues. They are all around me, yet there is no movement to be seen.
I smell flesh and recall I wanted to see her face. There is a neon lime-green sign in front of me, with someone hot and moist beneath the shivering hue. The logo is deliberately misspelled in one of those eye-catching ways, only the letters are broken and sputtering, the electric lime from the neighboring letters reflecting from it as if the dead letter were a benign tumor, and the cracked wall bleeds the name of the club out into a deserted street: CAFÉ XO - - -
A hard hand pushed me to my knees and the alarm clock goes off. Just when the logic of it all was starting to gel as easily as blood clots onto a battered brain.
Trying to focus, wishing I could continue dreaming about encounters that were vaguely sexual, just as I wish I was this same age in 1959 so that I could be writing screenplays for The Twilight Zone and been hired as a creative consultant for movies with stars like Sal Mineola and Deborah Walley as the love interests in I Was a Teen-Age Carnival Geek. Trying to keep conscious reasoning running a smooth road, but my eyes are failing midway from their sockets, and my torso stretches like one in a funhouse mirror. As in my life before the one I’m living now, I fall back into dreams of guilt and worry and good old mother psycho, the mother of invention, I am my mother’s son, mother mary quite contrary somebody get me to just shut the fuck up and shove the breathing tube down my throat for chri
You were the fifth person to sleep in that hotel room, the man behind the stained counter said, that done told me he dreamt about having to go to the axeman’s carnival. He said it casually, as one might about the river flooding or the new road being paved outside of the St. Vitus Cemetery. The Formica on the counter had gold squiggles on white that resembled transparent palettes. I had seen similar counter tops on tables sold in thrift shops. The man behind the counter had stubble on his chin that was several days old.
I looked around. The diner was empty. Same gold and white designs on the leatherette cushions. A man with a hood rolled up to his nose, exposing a tiny mouth haloed with cigarette wrinkles, was eating a teal donut. Smoking will kill a man, the counter help said. I turned and looked at the gold symbols on the counter top, thought balloons in fractal shapes. The stubbled man told me about the new road paved down Bacchanal. I asked for eggs, scrambled. And juice.
And thought about the dream. Axeman’s carnival. Counter man flipping noise on a tinny radio, mumbling about a radio desert. Thinking I should’ve eaten on a full stomach. Nightmares from hunger, was all.
Checked into the Midway Hotel across from the Greyhound Station in Lafayette. Shivaree Cab company across the road, Best In Indiana, it said. Somewhere, I forget now. Or maybe it was the coffee and strawberry donuts in the diner. Dead on my feet. I had to laugh at that. Because I was running away from Chicago. At the age of thirty-five. See, there was no virtue in the city of wind and bluster and devilish breezes blowing up slit skirts to expose secretarial shaved schnizz impaled in the skyscraper shadows and nobody’s given me that goddamn breathing tube yet don’t even know if it has a brand name like Snavely or something
all I know is
what I’m saying
about virtue. Chastity. Purity. On the road, it didn’t damn well matter.
How Do You Feel?
Running away to kill myself. Or at least be made a statistic on a moonless highway, maybe allowed a decent dirt nap in a shallow grave by the next serial killer to make the headlines. Let some guileless chain smoker with a yellow pickup, nice demeanor, and extensive knowledge of old John Agar movies wrap his arms around me, run his fingers through my mind, and yank my spine out because I couldn’t do it myself.
Left the door open, not just unlocked. Wedge of light from Highway 24. Chlorine from the bathroom, rotting animal flesh from the heating vent. Smell of donuts over everything else. Shivaree hacks, munching. My spine fusing to my skull, my nervous system.
Woke up hungry. Memory glazed, one phrase apparently true. To learn, I must go to the axeman’s carnival.
The cab company gone, replaced by a Shopper’s World discount store. Lowest prices in Indiana it says. Sales on suture twine and Tesla coils, rib spreaders and stool softeners, puppy guns and dead playmates from dead decades.
(starlets and missing children, famous for all the wrong reasons)
Big sign says it all, and more, but my eyes are loose, or possibly lost, in this misty morning fog. The advertisement in those same carnival colors hovers over the Rem Woods and Grandmother Szostale’s shack is a Hopper painting near the wood’s black entrance. Just before the trees are billboards known by any interstate traveler. Midway Hotel, Exit 33; Little Egypt. Food Gas Lodging; Dairy Queen, Wayfara, Exit 35/Mimi. Closer inspection shows the wayward signs provided by Airy/Zero and LNFL Trades. I know all this because I’ve always been here, running from my life in Chicago or Denver or any number of cities in any number of futures dreamt. Los Angeles, 1959. Seattle, 1989. Stafford, 1997. Ancient and wizened, a greeter at a Wal-Mart. I’ve always been here, not on the run, always spent my days and nights in Thalmus, Indiana. Working as a skeletal roustabout. The other cities in other times are just dreams that someone else is having.
My job today is to put up a new tent. But my head spins and my immediate thoughts are replaced by a need to eat breakfast at the Sunrise Diner.
Hey, Roustabout, the counter man said. He had placed a small plate with an evil clown in the center in front of me. The guy had shaved, rather badly. You said scrambled? I nodded. He picked up grill tongs, used them like a rib spreader. With a stained spatula, he spooned eggs from his bowels onto my plate. The clown was obliterated in a flood of guts and yoke.
I woke up on a full stomach and part of a groin with a fingerless hand attached. Left it for the maid to tuck in and walked out the door. I entered the diner without feeling the outside air. August, so I would know. The month the carnival was in town.
Music in the place. Black, white, black, following tiles on the floor. The eviscerated counter help standing rigid. Cholesterol lividity. A man walked up and wiped dry toast on his cheek, winked, told me that I should see the soup boss.
The song. Little white clown that cried. No jukebox- hooded man at the counter mouthing words. Chewing on the fabric around his lips. Man with the toast saying he couldn’t smoke because he was born without lungs. The man in the hood stopping in mid-stanza, screaming that the postman always sang twice.
I woke up again, this time to the fanfare of chiropractors, cracking spines like toast, breaking resolves like eggs. I was on the pike. The carny was all around me, spread out like a narcoleptic’s feast; dream machines of a happy, sudden death.
And with my first step, I fell.
I lay there in the gravel, one eye blurred, the other touching the ground. By shifting my line of sight, I can see dust motes silently rising from the impact of my fall, and it is like a shattered hourglass in reverse. I recall wanting to be dead and momentarily assumed that I was.
Further down my line of sight I saw a burned out playlot, SOMETHING FOR THE KIDDIES spray-painted on one freestanding wall. Rusted monkeybars in a gray sky tinged with green. Something, some movement, off to the left. Obscured by the shadow of my nose.
I try to focus, recatch the image. I give up. There is a rotted teeter-totter, a broken husk of sky-blue slide. I now remember this entire scene from a dream I had when I was twelve. A man in a Dodge Polara, purple like the bug guts on the monkeybars, pulls up to the playlot, silent. A man is pushed out, his hands tied in front of him. Seeing him this way, makes me think that he is praying. Someone in the car shoots him; the muzzle flashes like dull candle sparks.
When the orange spots leave my retinas, the dead man, the Dodge, and its killer passenger are gone and all I can hear is calliope music.
The roadbed is a Plith Tri-Fold ™ traction table. I succeed in looking up. The lady chiropractor has long hair cascading down like chocolate as she stares with curious, merciless eyes. She does not move her lips, yet I know that she wants me to roll over onto my back. Her chocolate hair frames a face tanned by the summer sun. Her skin smells like milk.
Past her shoulder, out the window, I can see the Two Lions Boarding House, the Col. Quinn Compost smoldering to the right - -no, the left - -of that. It is where I live now, such a deal. The lady chiropractor with purple lips asks me if I want an orthopedic pillow or a hot plate.
I am placed through a series of responsitorial tests and I want to ask if they mean resposintorial verses. The Wartenberg Pinwheel. Buck Neurological Hammer. Babinski Hammer may be used in both horizontal and vertical positions. Queen’s Square Telescopic. Tomahawk Hammer. Stainless Steel Finger Goniometer.
All rides are the carnival midway, each one covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield. I fully expect my neck to be cracked when she reaches down with anticipating hands. Yet I am not at all surprised when she tears open my stomach and pulls out steaming clumps of scrambled eggs. I feel no shock because I know that it has happened before.
After I eat my eggs and clean my plate, I wipe my hands like a good little man and walk back down the alley and climb into the refrigerator. I hear a carnival barker over the Coldspot’s humming. He wants people to guess the weight of dead people shot and left in car trunks. I am cold and tie plastic wrap around myself in clear tourniquets.
I forget my blond-colored Philco alarm clock and I have to roll back into the boarding house. Then roll back out. The alarm clock is blond-colored, did I say? It plays “Lover Doll” when it goes off.
When it does go off, the lyrics pleasing, I find myself wrapped too tight. I have to stab myself to get free. The clock on the stove next to the refrigerator says that I am again late for work. I cannot remember what my job is. When I leave the house, the screen door slams, making a sound like “axeman”.
It keeps swinging open, then shut, in the summer wind. Axeman. Axeman. Axeman. A car speeds by, looking very much like the Dodge from my dream. The sound it makes is very sleek and smooth. It goes executioner.
Distracted by the Dodge, I almost bump into the cook, the one with the scrambled eggs dangling from his abdomen. His pants may be unzipped, but there is little chance to look, and his gut hangs so low.
I see a mailman further down the block. At the curb is a splayed copy of William Burrough’s THE NAKED LUNCH. I pick up the book and it closes immediately. There is a marker, assumedly where the reader left off, or perhaps to mark a rite of passage. The marker consists of bloodied flaxen hair.
A few steps away, there are plastic ducks in a pathetic puddle. I drop the Burroughs book and choose a duck. The bottom part reads, in faded print, Axeman Surplus, St. Paul, Minn. The number six is underlined and I wonder what I would’ve won, wonder where the carnival went. The paint on the duck is chipped. The mailman passes and nods.
I watch him reach into his bag. He pulls out a sheaf of carrier-sorted flyers. HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL? I can read this much. Then a photo stating when the light-haired girl went missing. I strain to see the pointillism photo more clearly, thinking of neighbors, cousins, and strays. The blond hair as a bookmark in an adult book. A young child’s stubby fingers reaching for the floating ducks at the axeman’s carnival, in the shadow of a large rollercoaster called the Bobs.
Focused now. The girl’s teeth are crooked. She was last seen in Ashburn, Illinois, August 1, 2000. Barely a week ago, where do the flyers get printed up so fast? The mailman is staring at the photo as one would a picture in a wallet. Or like one deciding which duck to pluck from dioxide-laden waters in a rusted tub at a broken carnival near a Midwestern interstate.
Billy DeSouza left a carnival in Ashburn in 1973 and they only found his body, his skeleton, in an Orland Park tree hollow fifteen years later because a Connecticut prisoner confessed. Part of Chicago history. The murderer was no killer clown, no ringmaster for a kiddie porno ring.
The mailman takes the cheap, printed photo and rips and tears and rips the pages with blackened stubs of fingers and drools when he finally has to use his own chipped teeth. He mutilates the blue and white photo, blue as if from a mimeograph machine, a contraption obsolete before the mailman with the blackened fingers was finished with his first civil service exam. The mimeograph squeaking and turning round and round like a ferris wheel at a carnival. The mailman’s fingers blackened from his deliveries of hydrofluoric acid and calcium gluconate to the Belladonna Glass Works. He has the photos and is folding them again and again with patience. He places a portion of the folded wad into a dog-eared wallet retrieved from a pocket.
The laminated window pages flip in the summer wind. I am certain that the mailman covets the contents. Each and every blue and white photo. This is one wallet that is not filled with photocopies of dead movie starlets.
Starlets and missing children, immortal for all the wrong reasons.
The page that the mailman was tearing with his damnable crooked teeth blossoms open and its center is missing. The mailman continues on his route, oblivious to me. I bend down and pick up the sheet. It smells like peppermint masking the stale sweat of desperation.
Him, with the comfort of a government job. His wages couldn’t even be garnished, more of less could he be suspected of murder.
The clicking of the mailman’s shoes fade, mixed with the sounds of cracking vertebrae and the scrape of a spatula on a rusted metal pan.
It is my street, the one I grew up on. A circle, no place to run from, no place to run to.
The midway of axeman’s carnival.
At the alley nearest the busy street, I see the corpse of the girl from Streator, the one on the mimeographed sheet. She is naked from the waist down, one foot in mud. Her shirt advertises the carnival. In small print: hey there kids from eight to eighty hey there mister bring your lady - -then getting bigger, as her breast might’ve had she lived longer, IT’S CARNIVAL TIME! Axeman’s Carnival, Thalmus, Indiana.
I see a picture of the axeman near the back collar; the illustration would have been covered by the girl’s hair if her neck had not been broken at such a horrid angle.
Names, dates, places. The axeman is clean-shaven.
The axeman is my neighbor, my precinct captain, my grocer, my
and I read the shirt, blood
spattering the bottom, near where the girl was violated in the anus.
Jennifer Lime, Pontiac, 5/7/00
Shondra Theodore, Ottawa, 6/14/00
Barbra “Missy” Vaughn, Bayou Bluff, 6/22/00
Lyrissa Seskarl, Streator, 7/2/00
Janet Raisch, Manning, 7/9/00
Lucie Flor de Luz, Dwight, 8/1/00
Temple Grimes, Manteno, 8/16/00
Cady Minstral, Stafford, Indiana, 8/19/00
Harmony Lannes, Wolcott, Indiana, 8/27/00
There are more. I don’t need the map to see Illinois Route 18 to 17 east, becoming Indiana Route 220, and then south.
There are always more…
I am still thinking this when the bus hisses up to the busy street. It sounds like an air hose. Faces connected by capillaries, mouths agape, stare from open windows. One head dangles from headphones, I hear an ad for carpeting. Call AXeman2-5000. AXman2-5000.
The doors open. Without a transfer, I ascend into a funhouse. I can smell the rubber of the tire treads. There is a restraint around my waist; a hard feeling coupled with a sense of gentle emotion. Begging? Hopeful wishes?
A past lover, then. They would - -she would never set a solitary foot on public transportation. No.
Perhaps the axeman then.
I move forward as the bus lurches down its predetermined track in the carnival ritual. There is tugging and I turn, feeling like a drowning victim against his will, doing pirouettes in Lake Michigan beneath winter ice.
I do not see any other passengers. I see her making breakfast. To make me big and strong, because only the strong survive. Spooning out scrambled eggs on a summer sunshine morning.
The tugging, the secure hug which I have sorely mistaken to be a consoling human, is a result of a torn and ragged plaid seat belt.
Looking down at the strap, I see that it is too tight at the waist, and the strap loops up and over my right shoulder. I am not surprised to see that the shoulder strap is a yellowed colostomy bag, filled and swirling with someone else’s massive wastes. Familiar faces rotate in the shit, press against the plastic. A faded postal flyer obscured by a smear, HAVE YOU SEEN TH - -
I also see her, and others that I loathe for the insistence on ritual, I see her tugging at the other familiar faces, ripping their grins wide, clawing at eyes and digging for purchase under gaunt and aged cheekbones.
Her face biting off the skin of the mailman, between his temple and right eye. HAVE YOU SEE - - - - -IS – G – RL, swirls by in a rush of bullshit brown; she pivots in miniature. The mailman floats off.
I see her face now. Dear old Lover Doll with her breakfast of scrambled eggs. I see her hands, everything slowing, becoming clearer. Scratching the inside of the bag, fingers supple, splayed. Grabbing at the seatbelt at my waist.
Loosening it. I hear hissing. It comes from within me.
The belt was attached to pneumatic pants. I am bleeding, I suppose, because it is so warm.
The car hums forward, like the woman humming while she spooned out eggs to me, only wearing an apron, naked beneath. The axeman porking her from behind. My body hisses as it deflates. I have no legs.
The hissing slows to a stop. Even after such a big and hearty breakfast, my stomach is empty.
“All or nothing,” she said to me that last time I saw her smile and heard her breathe. “That’s how I’ve always been.”
Then she started the blade whirring against my brainstem.
And I cannot hear the doctor explain to her what accident befell me this one last time.
“So you say?”
A man in a blue blazer is talking to me as if we were carrying on a conversation. I blink, at first thinking that I am back in the tavern in Shelbyville, Kentucky. It made sense, after all. Another one of my alternate timelines, this one 1977, in a town that never “discovered” disco, and never knew it died. On the jukebox Charley Pride was asking if anybody here was goin’ to San Anton’?
I had checked into the Midway Hotel earlier, too tired to drive to La Grange, a few miles northwest. There was a bar next to the hotel, off Old U.S.60, and this was a place most likely to strike up a conversation. Something to keep me from sleeping, from my dreams about an axeman.
But this place looked like a waiting room. There was a television set above us. Silent, it showed a gravid river, Amtrak sleeper cars submerged in mire.
“They’ll be here soon,” someone down the seating line says.
“Shut up,” his companion hisses. The sound is like a bus on a busy street back home, the grin tight like the doors to a carnival ride boarded up for the winter.
I want to say I hear a piano. I am standing. I have an erection beneath my robe, the white furry thing with the Midway emblem on the breast in blue. There are empty seats and plenty of aisle room. Blue-green water drips from the television screen, and the picture shorts out. The tinkling of ivory keys is closer.
The man in the blue blazer, blue like my breast, says nothing as the screen shows black. I see a descending blade of silver behind my reflection on the television, still dripping blue-green turning brown and clotted.
As the first drip becomes a dank splat, the man turns. Smiling, his teeth the color of the clotted brown, inches of sea weed wrapping his teeth like braces. “All work and no prey,” he shrugs, then giggles. His breath erupts as if in one last bubble of oxygen.
The seaweed recedes into his skull and protrudes a moment later from first the right eye, then the left. His tongue is lolling, fish-belly white.
He falls over and I want his seat.
There is a hissing, the ringing not of ivory, but the sound of my veins popping below my skin.
Still, I want to say I hear a piano, in this room of nearly empty seats and vacant stares.
Lincoln Doolittle has owned the building since Granny Szostak was much younger, and wore little more than a calico gown with Buster Brown socks and black patent leather shoes while mulching the grass in front of the woods; the artist on the first floor had been the second resident and had witnessed much, as well.
Before I had met the girl from the wastelands north, I dreamt of the carnival quite differently. (It is often said that people who use the word quite are most likely feeling that they are being interrogated; on a similar note, I often chastise others for using parentheses during stream of consciousness images).
It would have been simple: right off University and Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, you’d find the Sunwood Inn. On the 20th of August, 1999, I took eight narcotic tablets; washed them down with a brand name green liquid acetaminophen; boxed the clown, i.e. masturbated, you know, slapped the monkey, knocked the milk bottles (finally a carnival misconception), yes, jerked off wildly to Celandine Tomei’s centerfold; ate teal sugar cookies; dripped semen to the television; and died of cardiac arrest.
That’s the day it would have occurred. What would have happened? The name of the hotel keeps changing. The name of Café Exotica keeps switching to something more benign. The malignant memories in my head turn fugitive.
The proprietor and the artist know all, at the ready to sew the scars I wear wet over every visible inch of my naked body.
But then she came along.
And I was the one who handed her the bonesaw, on the hopes that our fingers would jointly clasp around it.
The carnival became quite different. The motors of the rides burning the air, the smell and the sound like the ice cream trucks on LeClaire Avenue back home.
I lock the door to the Doolittle Hotel, Home of the Four Hour Nap!, the night’s receipts in my pocket. It seems as if the colors still play a part in the place I am stranded. The last man to leave the hotel told me about surviving a wreckage of spewing quite colorful sewage. I told him perhaps he thought about his mother too much and he told me to fuck a rolling donut. Now I am driven to find a donut shop, having cashed out and locked up with colors swirling through my mind of silence.
The streets are empty in the false dawn. An aqua sky, stars murdered by pollution, disemboweled parrots of bright red and green carpet a broken, asphalt street two lanes wide. A square of orange in front of the sky, a marker on a streetpole. The word MIDWAY above the black silhouette of a plane.
Below this, a yellowed flyer for a missing child. Last seen in Your Place For Steak & Eggs on August 11th. On the ground, clutching the pole is a bearded man, vomit on his chin like stucco, weeping because he told his best friend why the two were missing their livers.
I step over him, aware of the silence. He weeps as if in a vacuum. There is no sound; he inhales as if sucking in anesthesia. The parrots are long dead and I hear no planes, either arriving or departing.
Several streets away, before I can reach the night deposit box of the bank, I see the Quintano Roo Motel. There is a girl on a ladder and she is wearing tight denim shorts and a white halter-top. The ladder is tarnished silver and she is barefoot, her toenails unpainted. She is placing letters on a signboard in front of her; Your Place For is all it says at this point.
As she reaches up to put the inevitable S in place, I see that she has a small birthmark on her left instep.
And it is then that I decide there must be music and I blink away the sound of a submerged piano. The girl is oblivious of me or of any sound that might be coming from my mind.
I open my mouth and my tongue spools out like a rope on a lifesaver and still the girl doesn’t notice and my tongue touches the salt on her thigh, the salt of her sweat in this false dawn and the fabric of her shorts is nudged away and this she notices and drops the S. My tongue can feel her pubic hair and how it curves down and grows near her ass my tongue probes and pushes and it is inside stropping her vaginal wall like a rubber knife on leather rubber like the kind you get when you win a prize I can’t slow down to punctuate more or less keep my cock from chewing through my pant leg. I’m not wearing socks? As my tongue rubs and swells the music starts and there is a sweet calliope sound and clowns start a shivaree on the two-lane street behind me my tongue is raw and sweat and come are on the girl’s thighs HAVE YOU SEEN HER glistening in the false dawn
and the clowns pass then there are moans from the girl ma jolie blond the jolly broad makes certain I have clean socks then the cars fill the two-lane road with rap music stars babbling about how surprised they were that she swallowed it and country balladeers saying they always bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out.
I am left thinking why my first delusion was the longest yet this one makes me just as guilty and what was the interlude with the guy and the sewage. I wake up thirsty with the night’s receipts in my hand, the axeman again in my memory. My mouth is gummy from the young girl’s come.
It is hell waking up.
If only it were that easy.
I go into Doc Wagner’s Clinic, sit at the nearest booth, and ask the waitress for something to wash the secretion from my mouth. She smiles a clown smile and first wipes my table with the underside of her tongue. My crotch is wet but I am wearing socks. I ask for a large orange drink and think of the sign to the airport.
You’re the seventh, she writes on the check after I gargle my orange drink and I know she means the seventh of those who have dreamt about going to the axeman’s carnival. But I am the same person I went to bed with. Aren’t these my white socks, after all?
The antimony exhibition is next, she says, but for now all is right with my world.
The clown lady is wrong. The dream/delusion/reality is much more sexual, more terrifying, and more real than I wanted it to be. But it introduces me to the carnival direct and I know that my fate is progressing.
I am walking down Unangst Alley, past a deserted concession stand far from the midway. I see her in the shadows, her red checkered gingham dress visible in the tall grasses like a banner headline that gives you the who/why/where’s, the breeze coming from the east turning her gown sanguine and ethereal. She is in a field of helicopters, sprawled as well as any 1950’s lass from Holcomb, Kansas, in a pile of hay, and I know her very well. If not for her, for waiting to see her, I would not need these delusions I am now forcing down the throat of my gaping soul.
She is in a field of helicopters. They are actually seeds that come down from maple trees in the gentle summer breezes. In some places, the seeds are called whirly-birds, all because of their shape and how they spin. On the phone so long ago, I called them helicopters and she took up the name. And then, equally long ago, she dreamt she was with me in that field of helicopters.
So, perhaps this is her dream, now. The helicopters twirling ever down, catching in her auburn hair, brushing eyelids and a nose laboured over by the Lord, over the swells of her breasts.
“You scare me,” she said. “How you write all this down.” She points down at her dress, the maple seeds, and I know that it is not her dream, but my reality. It is what I always do.
“It’s only my dream,” I rephrase it. “That’s all,” shrugging.
“That’s all?” She raises those God-given eyebrows in mock disbelief and her hands drop to her waist. She starts brushing the maple seeds away with a manic desperation borne of passion. She needs for me to see and I am terrified of what it is she wants to show me. What it is she wants me to see.
What I might have taken away from her by making my dreams into reality.
Suddenly, she is illuminated by harsh blue light, as if she was the star of a rock video. Her pale skin now almost solid white, the gingham like radiation burns in a pleasant 1950’s cautionary film shown in high school health classes.
I am frozen.
The lights wash over her again, now pinpointing her, pinning her to the ground. I am a foot away, yet in complete darkness, hidden in crimes I have committed by writing them down to memory.
Music now from above, eerie chords, leering voices. “The Little White Clown That Cried.” “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Face.” Clowns in the gunner seats of the open helicopters above us, aiming seltzer bottles.
The lights flooding down from overhead, one, two, then a third, intersecting, bisecting, the sky falling from the night. The whirling blades the clowns prancing in the moonlight beyond the searchlights. One swivels (I think of the soup boss with the pump-action shotgun) and sure enough there is a bazooka in his hands.
A clown peeks out of the barrel and waves. The sexless harlequin is dressed in frilly burnt sienna, my favorite of the obsol te rayolas, and the bazooka is f red. The clown, the bazooka, everything explodes in my face. I fall
and am inver ted. The sweeping lights from the maple seeds now and forever and ever the midway lights of the carnival. Axeman’s carnival: Milwaukee, Rockford, Logansport, through Thalmus; circling back through Little Egypt –the Illinois border towns of Metropolis, Future City, Shawneetown, and Cairo. Then it’s Louisville, Memphis, Blytheville, and Louisiana towns from Pineville through Baton Rouge and finally New Orleans. An itinerary from Hell, different levels of interstate infernos filled with intestate souls, their memories spilling from the tracks of every trailer door parked off the midway.
Chicago obviously circumnavigated because of politics, the souls of the dead in City Hall still begging for what skim from the carnival games should be rightfullytheirs.
(hey there kids from eight to eighty)
(win the girl a prize)
My kind of town, the axeman should be so lucky. But I am forever and ever in Thalmus enthralled. The rotors from the maplecopters are music wafting in from the rides staccato then slow rigid halting speeding up slowing like a finger on the needle of an old 45 pushing down a cassette in the window of a Dodge Dart left out in the summer sun organ strains calliope somber.
“I’m really here,” she says.
Gbb is the only thing that comes out of my rigid mouth in reply, my frozen mouth, the real one, not the one in the dream.
And the rides go faster, the children scream.
The clowns in the helicopters were paramedics is the first thing I rationalize when the morphine wears off.
Her flight from the Gulf Coast had taken three and one-half hours and the bus from Valparaiso half that again. She is so very beautiful. Eyebrows twin comet trails over eyes as green as the ocean bottom. A pointed chin on a face that had none of the gauntness one saw in similar faces. I always think of a flesh-colored lemon drop. I’ll always think that. Her voice electricity wrapped in honey.
The doctor’s voice, I cannot make out. At first it sounds like he is telling her that I had sent a bonnet to you before he dined. Later, I realized he was saying that I had wanted to see you (meaning her) before I died.
This part was always true. The doctor had a tattoo that said Soup Boss.
It is then that I hear the doctor talking as I lay strapped into a bed that rotates to ease bedsores. It is like a giant chrome ferris wheel and the brand name is Snavely; this I can read if I shift my weight to the left side. This I can read if I can keep my eyes in their sockets.
On the television screen, unbidden, the news stations kept breaking in regarding some tragedy at Amtrak, a train going off an East Memphis bridge. I blink, thinking I saw a killer clown in a spangled jumpsuit in the crowd of survivors.
While the girl with the lemon drop face brushed off the advances of the doctor who doubles as fry cook, the killer clown explained to a captive audience what had happened here.
I had been in the Thalmus trainyard, moving between cars, the killer clown was able to piece together from the accounts of eyewitnesses. The stationary train I was climbing over had a boxcar on one end, full of novelties, and a refrigerated car on the other. Most American rolling stock is equipped with air brakes (he read from the teleprompter), and the couplers have pivoted knucklers and look quite similar to an erect cock and a hot, wet pussy which would interlock automatically when two cars were pushed together.
Buffers were normally used to minimize shocks and some were much like the piston-like devices one sees inside women’s thighs. Also known to the killer clown’s expertise was that the sleeve had no bearing on the car axles.
Too bad his dick was so small, the killer clown lamented making the appropriate Emmett Kelly face, and he was crushed because of it, his organs spilling out to be retrieved by roustabouts near the midway. Then the television cut to a commercial for a law firm called Link And Pin. The narrator talked about Federal laws passed in 1897 regarding the installation of automatic cocks and vaginas on all rolling stock.
Lying there, looking up, my chin strapped fast. Smelling like GelFoam ™, a spongy matrix that clotted my blood.
choo choo charlie was an engineer
whooo it’s the orange blossom special, bringing my baby back home to me
lying there with the woman I love
above me I’m trying to
pull the strap on my chin so I can kiss her lemon
face the summer leaves outside the window
the maple seeds
spiraling the wash of shadows across her face
her eyes her lips
like lace on a funeral
take the “a” train, mister miller, transfer’s on me. When she walked in he saw her, smelled her, drank of her as he watched her cry, she being afraid to touch his hand and all he could say was Gbb to console her.
God help me, I cannot watch her like this. Why did I beg the trauma unit to call her when I was still impaled between the boxcars those many dreams/years ago?
What happened to my words of wisdom, the writer is his own fucking disciple. That I don’t need anyone, that I don’t have prissy little kitty wounds to lap at until they heal, that I wear my wounds open and wet and pulsating red and nobody dares attempt to start sewing them up.
Well, I’m eating my words now.
Or at least choking on my phlegm.
I fade. To a simpler time, a simpler past. The summer of 1993.
I am sitting at a Formica desk and everything around me shimmers. The word processor is in front of me, words on the screen, nouns and verbs I cannot decipher because of the blur, a blur as if from summer sweat, but I am chilled. The reflection of my face in the chalk-white screen looks older; perhaps the vibrations in my eyelids are what cause my jowls to hang like dried tallow. My right thumb rests atop a nut and bolt.
The sounds of the carnival, errant snatches of conversation fun and jousting, flirting and moaning, are exactly where they are expected to be: out of sight, but not out of mind. I hear something calloused slapping something babyfat. I imagine the soft rustlings I hear to be pockets. Men bartering their balls for lack of change.
My legs are crossed and a toenail bites into my hamstring. My delusions are derived from guilt and so I am surprised at being productive. My nails, chewed to the bloodline.
Let’s do it, the axeman chides me from the screen. Words drain from my spermatic vein, rearing over the keyboard like a beast from twenty thousand fathoms.
Diluted antimony, vaguely creamy with red veins thin like in the belly of a bloated spider dangling from a thread of spittle over suckling farm animals. Everything moving and dripping and swaying the way Jesus saw things from the cross and Elvis envisioned when the turd stayed embedded in his fat asshole. Gold lamé, dusky robes, blind things scrabbling to suck withered tits.
Above me, faces blending all the same. Buttery newsprint from Chapel Hill and Chicago and Memphis, The Promised Land, Mile High City and Metropolis all the dots pinpinpin into obsessive reasoning. Once a lark or goof, like free verse way off base, the faces are stuck in forever smiles and winks of delight even if I had to use Duco-Cement to keep them that way. At three a.m. in August, the full moon makes the dried globules behind the teeth and gums shine silver. I would not kill the president because the faces (all the same) smile at me like mommy from my crib not anyone else I swear until the axeman chides me to stay my tongue.
It is wet with blood from paper cuts, the faces all the same still smiling. Some of the faces have lipstick on them, others have lipstick in their borders. Surface infrastructures of leveled desires.
My thoughts alone, the midway gone, swiveled away on a haze of rubber. My obsessions bleak. Assumedly, it is the fatigue of trying to wake up that makes me blink. The faces flip like real-life memory faces and smiles with gaps between teeth even and I hear my name breathed deep. Then, with an echo: Are you excited about the incision? Are you excited about the incision?
The cut is deep because my one eye is gummed shut, the other seeing the cement dripping, leaden, golden, transparent. Draping gracefully across the incidentals; the puppy head taped to the photo cube, the universal monster, catwoman, bald king (as he would be today), naked rockinghorse, the strawberries, hairy with intestines on the vine. Mineral lice and gummy labels, votive candles borne again by 67 ½ volt Ray-O-Vac batteries.
The faces above me leer (all the same) one woman it is long ropes of spittle from every leering cranial vault. Was I pleased with my disease? Gouts of phlegm, lady-like, drop into the open cabinet beside me. My other eye peels open. The billboard out my hotel window says Did You Hear What Happened in Thalmus today?
I stretch my legs and let them dry.
And that little flashback, pal, was when I still had legs that worked.
Thalmus, the town: it’s real, because I made it up. It only took trauma to blink it into existence. Loudon’s Chemical Factory is the town’s provider, the workers start out at the Eye Opener Grill and end up at the Five O-Clock Whistle, with Sinus Methane’s Adult Books a tasty treat next door. I live in the woodwork of the Two Lions Boarding House, and sleep in cotton candy and caramel corn and other things that rot your teeth. I see double features at the Biopsy Theater: FAMILY FICTION and MY ORIGINAL SIN 1959.
Knowing what will happen, what always happens, in the Faulkneresque Sunrise, I first stop in at the CAFÉ XO --, there to face the music. A band is playing surf music, ebb and tide, and their name matters less than the lives of those on the dance floor. The piano player works days at the plant, and has no fingers, and the saxophone player blows his lymph glands through his nostrils in spite. The tambourine man swings from the rope he hung himself with last summer.
Boys bob and bend with bloody coat hangers twisted into their foreheads, mere girls brandish their butts as they press together, dyke horned double dongs inside each and every one of their hairless slits. I see small snatches of wood when they gasp for breath. I feel that if anyone here had a gun, they could easily kill double digits before a single person thought to stop dancing. They could blast out the dripping red and flatline blue lights above restrooms that read SEAHORSES and MERMAIDS in afterthought, the band playing on, while other wall flowers rip open their ribcages, play with pizza cutters, toss needles with pancurium bromide at clown balloons on a dartboard, or cuss and swat at obsolete pinball games.
I then attend the Eye Opener Grill, where a patron is offered a shot and a beer before the hemper-locks are clamped four at a time to each eyelid. I go directly to the bathroom to read the poem, the logic being that I am in a novel by one of those low-paying publishing houses, where most characters simply fill up the spaces in the empty minds and existence’s of the reading public. Men with blackened stumps for dicks and fingers squat naked, playing with crap and gambling on the colors of the condoms dispensed from a machine that says INDIANA STATE POLICE HATS.
The poem is in the stall with the hole cut next to the toilet paper dispenser so everyone can get a blowjob.
Second thoughts in my mouth
I sucked out the load I shot in.
There is something sticking through the blowjob slot. I look down, it is my manuscript so far, the envelope returned for postage. When I reach down I feel a hand grab my chin and slam me into the ceramic bowl. A stump is pressed into my swollen eye and sticky warmth ejaculates down my cheek.
I black out this time only because my eyes are stuck shut.
(perhaps from tears because I know she is here the whole time watching me fight watching me drift and lapse and gurgle and I must be crying because that is what cowards do)
take that ‘a’ train, mister miller, zooming past billboards descriptions about the tyranny of love and puppies suffocating in bottles the train descending into the bowels of downtown Chicago like both my consciousness and a big long fat fry from the Sunrise Diner into a roiling sea of grease -------
This had been one of the original images, before my fingers and my face melted into palimpsest. It involves sounds and happened on a Thursday night, also in the summer of 1993. An image that perhaps foreshadowed too many of the others.
Where to begin?
Who to end?
I am in a trailer, not a house trailer or motor home, but perhaps one used for construction foremen. I am placing myself on a pullout bed with cushions of paisley swirls, burnt sienna and burgundy and grape. There is coffee brewing, but not where I am. Pale blue drapes blow in a summer wind. It is midday. Outside on the street, distorted by the gauze of the drapes, I see men in black slapping jackboot leather to blacktop pavement all the while twirling whips like batons. When the men turn, their faces swiveling like mannequins, I see that each of them have gold fillings in their godawful white mouths.
The window is only a foot from my face. There is a perfumy scent, then. From my blind side, my right side. I turn, and can only stare.
The woman beside me looks more like a doll. She is short, her hair lavender, her pussy shaved, the black nubs glistening wet. Her teeth are perfect, like Styrofoam igloo-logs I played with as a kid, only there is a hint of brown gristle along her upper gum line. Her fingers and toes are painted with exxes and O’s. I touch her hair and it is gone without my even blinking.
There are fissures in her skull, filled with black and viscous veins of clotted blood. The pattern shifts like worms on pavement after the summer rain. The fattest the most prominent, saying look at me I’m a fucking stupid worm where’s the goddamn dirt, man?
I touch her sculpted face, her doll face, looking for seams or creases for the joints.
I touch her collarbone and pop a blood blister where the pull-ring should be. Pull the ring, mommy I’m hungry.
Pull the ring, hi won’t you be my friend?
Pull the ring, win the lady a prize.
Her perfume is overpowering. I want to lick those breasts the size of small lumps of sand. She is wet. Or she has wet herself. Baby Wet-A-Lot.
Outside, the bells of an ice cream truck. When I finally shut my eyes, the curtains still blowing, I am chewing on the doll person’s ribcage.
After: I am again dragging myself across the midway, my feet useless, my legs dead. I hallucinate tires squealing and I’m thinking it was me who was the murder victim and it was somebody else altogether at those monkeybars, but I know it was not real, only this is real. The scene from the playground was a dream I conjured up at my word processor last summer while I was playing with my cock, antimony exhibition, my ass!
Still I drag myself along, ignoring the squeal of limousine tires squeezing into my eardrums until it is the cutting and the chuffing of the helicopter blades cutting up all the women I have ever thought I could love. My testicles, my naked nuts, leaving hourglass-shaped patterns in the gravel.
Someone wearing familiar perfume wipes my face with a scarlet sponge and I lap greedily at the blood it provides. My strength returns and I am again able to strap myself into the various vehicles available at the axeman’s carnival. I choose a go-cart and drive up the ramp to the Bump-Em’ Cars arena. My go-cart is colored patriotically and I see that the other cars are wooden and their drivers are strapped in and have facial death masks over their own. Pock-cheeked Richard Speck in Car #8. Sponsored by SouthSide Community Hospital. Haggard with thinning blond hair, Dennis Cassady is in the second car, his backer being the Chicago Transit Authority, shirt logo RAPID TRANSIT ‘85. The cars in motion, there are so many others, when each collides the sparks fly and the drivers fry, up up away. Terrible Ted Bundy has lozenges burned into his head, stitches like on a baseball across his hairless, fried pate, angelic smile and eyes that won’t let you go, his death car benefactor being TrueCrime Books. I’m sitting and shivering, waiting to be taken out of it. In the distance, the Union 666 ball sticks up like a lollipop, across the road sleepers at the Doolittle Hotel, Home of the 4 Hour Nap!, hit each other with alarm clocks and divorce papers. There is so much clarity in my eyes once the Demerol has been injected directly behind my sockets. A familiar black man, once a football superstar, in the newest of the go-carts, speeds past me, his car is bottomless and pushing along has made his feet bloody stumps, and he screams media media media media media and there is an incredible Doppler Effect to his baby talk as he crashes through the wooden rails and tumbles towards St. Vitus Church to pray for a return to mediocrity. I am sickened by the whirring of camera shutters as a massive blob follows him, ignoring me and my brethren of American dreams and nightmares.
(the helicopters still overhead)
(the helicopters twirling to the ground into her hair she is laughing I didn’t see the train)
walking now past the booths and the games and the publishing houses at the three-way intersection of Drury Lane, Primrose Lane, and Happy Organ Lane, all dead center in the middle of the carnival grounds. An overpowering smell of the carnival rides’ electric generators, burnt flesh first comes to mind, but that would be too easy. It is more the really simple smell of the body odor of oily ice cream vendors in vacant cul-de-sacs holding ice cream cones with sanitary wrappers that say HAVE YOU SEEN THIS -----
The scent of every orifice of every person on the midway, feral, full of fear, frustrated, frank and forthwith, fuck fuck fuck fuck, the sound of the ratchet –fuck fuck…fuck…fu------eeeaaaaaaaaaaa----on the roller coaster that rises to the teal horizon. Do it again? I’m up for it, okay kids, strap yersefs in, ready. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck into the blue-green night, the oily and the chain-smokers below.
:SOUND: Guess the weight of the scarlet sponge your girlfriend uses to keep you alive, her eyes so green. The axeman’s axe so silver bright and dripping red. Pouring rain on the midway, mud slopping from the tent tops yellow and blue.
Guess the weight of a pair of pneumatic pants filled with air and the ragged remains of a human body. Win the lucky lady a prize. Don’t forget the ducks in the pond with the numbers on their plastic bottoms. Win the lady a prize.
Shoot the spear gun at the shrunken heads piled up in the skull carpenters game. Squirt blow guns of semen at happy clown faces, enlarging their cheeks until they swallow or explode. Throw the ball and dunk familiar faces writhing into acid baths of their own design again the pretty colors yellow and blue sometimes bright blue like a television screen.
Go over to the Zombie Tongue booth and stick your tongue into the slit in the exhibition’s stomach and watch as your tongue is spooled out and grasped and caressed by dozens of other tongues some young some old all the curious.
(the exhibition long dead, the exhibitionists daisy chaining their entrails)
(the helicopters rushing like blood in your ears)
the worst exhibit myself in a funhouse mirror bandying my dick about. My legs are pulled up and sutured to my arms, fetal-like. There is a mirror on the ceiling so I can look up and watch the floor. It is the familiar tile of the Sunrise Diner. The men with stumps for fingers and worksuits from the Belladonna Glass Works are rolling dice made from bone. My dick (not my penis) my dick is dangling limp below me as I am lowered ever so slowly. The Soup Boss has me positioned over a beef slicer. Down the counter, my ex-lover and the mailman sit, with all the missing girls under their wings, feeding them eggs and man’s milk. From the mirror I see the dull, blue blade buzzing my pubic hairs into floor lint, withered rinds of my testicles flutter to the tiles like maple seeds in someone else’s nightmare. My temperature rising with my breakfast, the steam vents whistling at my nakedness. Now sated, the young girls gather below me, positioning themselves as if my sutured body and dangling member was a celebratory thing at a Mexican fiesta. That woman complimenting the size of my dick, the mailman examining his own. The sacs split with a stale crunch.
I am lowered fractionally until I do not even know if my dead balls are being cut into by the beef slicer for all the blood has left that area long ago before I
THE SPERMATIC VEIN IS SEVERED AND I AM FREE for all of a second as
I fall back into my metal bed. Guess the weight of my ego. Winna prize. The axeman looms.
We talked on the phone and this was after the helicopters, the false dawn out my window and I could have had an erection had I simply tried. I could hear the first commuter trains heading towards downtown. We discussed other things, certain things, envisioned certain scenarios.
Father forgive me for I have sinned and have not been to confession since the last time my eyes slammed shut and stayed that way for more than an hour episode of a forgotten situation comedy.
My original sin, forgetting what I was. She wanted to know how I would use my hands. I had looked at my werewolf claws then. Realizing I was a freak, sitting there spreadeagled and dumbfounded amidst my antimony exhibition.
And the place for freaks is a carnival.
I put on my John Agar pants, black shirt, and Universal Monsters tie, walked east then south before the sun broke onto the sky like a fried egg.
Greyhound took me most of the way. On the road I thought of the carny in Streator circa 1966. Middle of Illinois, the lights seen for miles, the calliope music on sighing wheatfields. In the land that eats its dead.
I want to make a connection with Streator and the missing girls on the flyers, but I cannot. Like straining to attain an erection, I can’t. Sorry, Father.
It’s not your fault, Mother. I rather enjoy being a child of thalidomide. Obscure for all the right reasons now and forever.
The shadow behind the confessional screens wanted details of that phone call that followed the helicopters’ cutting cries. The shadow asked me where I was going to put my right hand as I made the sign of the cross with my left.
I told him as I told her that my right hand is stupid and cannot even please myself. As with the phone call, there was a recognizable silence, of facts being digested.
It’s Hell being Catholic.
The silence continues, words unattainable, and I slide the partition. It makes the sound axeman and too late I hear the words “the show that never ends.”
I see red teeth as the silver hits my throat.
harder so hard I can hear the rushing of the Wabash River I can hear the trumpets I hear Elvis singing Blue Suede Shoes the axeman looms he is so clearly delineated it is every face who ever defiled me every face the eyes so tiny and scrutinizing maggots balancing the optic nerves taut skin like a pale lampshade in the room my great-grandmother died in the night Elvis sang Blue Suede Shoes reproaching mouth curled up like the Catholic nuns who kept us all in the fire with their concrete handiwork
the axeman’s fingers are stubs also he has chewed his nails beyond the quick jack be nimble can’t suck my dick anymore since my time at the sunrise diner my virginity intact the axeman’s brain is visible when he shifts his weight he has all l my remaining thought
(the helicopter pilot)
(the conductor on the train)
train couplings severed my spine blew apart my internal organs put me in these pants the axeman sold them to me surplus, pal.
He did. Lucid one last time.
Guess who the axeman is. Win the lady a prize.
Win the lady a prize.
I wonder is the woman is Mother Mary.
I wonder if I am wearing clean shorts.
I will die, pure and simple. Well, I won’t die pure. Simple, yes.
But I lost my religion to the axeman back in the carny confessional booth. The faith was in the thalidomide. So is the woman before me Mother Mary? Is it Gladys Presley? Who is next to take the stage? Maybe I have said too much.
Implied wrong things. We are talking fiction here: the bible, the diner menu, the map of central Indiana.
So I am confessing yet again. Inchoate ramblings that somehow close together like a clenched fist when the brass ring is mine and mine alone. Oh this sucks, this sucks so bad.
Say three Hell Marys and perform a final act of contrition.
Then let the revels begin.
I listen to each of her final words but cannot tell her this.
Such a stupid thing, falling between the train cars, clowns in front of me, lions in the back, the hard steel of the couplers buttering up my spine. I was able to watch numbly as my abdomen split open, one kidney tumbling free
(perhaps Jack the Ripper will send it to the police chief, laying claim to eating the other one his ownself)
lose the feeling rib by rib, the sensation that one has after swallowing a hard oblong piece of candy whole. My stomach resembles a cherry cobbler pie and I wonder why my legs are flexed.
Shock soon sets in but the doctors insist I can live like this for several days. Like this: strap across my chin, eyelids screwed into my skull with crutchfield tongs, tightened hourly because my brain is a scarlet sponge, a catheter on my dick, somewhere inside the twin tunnels of my pneumatic pants. Blood pressure zipping around, the chrome Ferris wheel inverting my horizons hourly.
No priest for last rites. I only asked to see a certain woman from a certain place from a certain reality.
(winna prize for the lady)
Gbbb, I say. The night nurse asks me if I would like to buy a vowel. Perhaps an ‘O’, for you, the living.
She sits with me and talks to me even though she knows it is hopeless. I never deserved to know anyone like her, and feel as if I am defiling her by including her in my twilight. She will do anything for me; she has done many things for me already. I cannot put her through anymore.
I wait for her to stop singing to me, listen for her deepening breaths to know that she is sleeping however briefly. The calliope music starts up, I move my hand for the brass ring plugged into my pneumatic pants.
The hissing starts, the car moving along the rails in the funhouse. I see the missing children, now dead, displayed in flashing lights as the funhouse car moves and turns and bumps through its predestined path. Bells ring and clang overhead in harsh white strobe light. I smell lilacs and maple syrup.
The mailman’s head is on a prong, there are departmental reprimands stapled to his lolling tongue. The car spins
(spilling all of the photos she ever sent me piled in my lap)
and I pass the frosted glass walls that smell of calcium gluconate and other industrial ectants.
There are three beveled doors, courtesy of Belladonna. The first says you can star in your own snuff film. The second says your lover doll can make you breakfast in a feeding tube for the rest of your life. I choose the third and the funhouse car revs up to make the correct turn-off. I vaguely hear the axeman/carnival barker/general factotum, asking everything way too fast for the next lost soul to answer. I know that I shall soon be shut of this.
The hissing sound lessens, the helicopters building to a crescendo, I shut it out with the last iota of concentration I have.
(music from the midway, once frantic, now silent and soothing as a saline drip)
I listen to her gentle breathing at the end, wishing that just once, it was I that had been able to sing her off into sleep.
She knows me all too well. What I dream, what I write, each and every scar I’ve reopened with relentless disdain. So I have to wonder what she’ll think when her eyes open again. Will she wonder what I saw, heard, and smelled at the last?
The whirring of a summer fan, dogs barking at ducks
The flickering of a blank television screen after insomniac theater has gone off the air, a carnival barker holding up plastic ducks the last image scene
The helicopters’ blades blowing like a summer fan in a second story room, scratching at the dreams and futures that might have been, that never were once the steel thunder of the propellers tears into the sky, turning sunset into torn plums and the horizons collapse in scrapes of diseased maple trees.
the taste of it in my throat like cotton
candy shoved into both lungs
the shriek of the crowd on the midway, the glee of the newly damned
sparking teeth, cool mint breath, melting eye sockets, retinal fluid like runny eggs once scrambled by soup boss
the descent of the axeman’s scythe, his free hand clutching for nerve endings
heady scent that might be spinal liquids, the pants having compressed, the final hiss like the funhouse car that pushes through gates that lead us all to the final one in the clown makeup, the one who has claimed to have made us all in his own image.
I want so bad to say that I see her eyes as they open, staring with certainty, like charcoal being burned behind green glass, the ducks are real and ruffle their feathers by the lagoon, the trees prosper
as I shut down my mind to a fugue of calliope
this story is for Jean Carlisle on the day the running stopped
Wayne Allen Sallee
MINNEAPOLIS, PHOENIX, LOUISVILLE
September, 1992, through