The roads and train lines form a spiderweb. In the center is an ominous silver-bulbed tower with a lighted spire. Outside the tower is a city. Four million people living in the ruin of the old world, and the mega structures of the new one.
At night I circle the spiderweb on foot and walk into bars and restaurants just to see what it’s all about. I walk in and I walk out again. Sometimes, when it is particularly cold outside, I’ll sit down and do whatever it is you’re supposed to do there. I’m not looking for a clean, well-lighted place. I reckon I want something dark and weird. And every time a stranger shows kindness to me in this sort of place, my decision to abandon my entire life in California and move to this dread metropolis feels less insane. The doomsday clock still lurches towards midnight, but at least I’m far from the flames, at least for now, and the only thing that can hurt me is my severe vitamin D deficiency.
For a variety of reasons I have become totally nocturnal. Ask anyone familiar with the myth of myself and they’ll tell you that I can’t really sleep. When I do, it is bad sleep. I wake up at three or four in the afternoon and stay up till seven in the morning. Originally it was because all the freaks I know here abide by the rule of three a.m. being Berlin Early. You stumble out of a secret velvet room in the back of a bar and wrap your scarf around your neck, and someone says, “Where should we go now?” I’m fresh off the boat, so I just go wherever it is these lead me. Why not? It is not a bad way to go about it, because after a while you collect a little constellation of streets and train stations in your head, and then you can go off and do it alone if that’s what you’re into, which of course I am.
Like Philip Marlowe, I go out and bear witness to it all, have a few adventures, solve some cases, and so on, and then I go home and feed my cat.
Speaking of feeding my cat: My current dilemma, or one of them anyway, is that the delivery man gave my package to the neighbor to give to me, because I slept through him ringing my doorbell, if he even bothered to do that at all. Dante eats this expensive prescription food that I can only get online, so it ain’t like I can go pick it up somewhere. I’m running dangerously low on the stuff I’ve already got. I’ve tried several times to get this woman to hand over the box, but she never seems to be home. The other night I knocked on her door and asked if I could have my package. I knew she was home because she keeps her boots outside on the doormat. She talked to me through the door in German and I responded in bad German. We switched to English. She didn’t open the door. She said to come back tomorrow. It was then I realized it was almost one in the morning and I had almost certainly gotten her out of bed. Whoops! She has not been home since. She went on vacation!
I have not yet figured out what it is, but time moves very slowly here. It reminds me of when I lived in Austin, and there was no hurry to do anything. And like Austin, everyone is just sort of hanging out for the sake of the song, so to speak. Hey, it’s OK with me. . . .
And I find that the longer I am here, the more it renders my memories useless. I still keep dreaming about this time and place in my mind that has washed away. It is like a temple in my subconscious that I unwillingly return to night after night, me trapped inside of it and jumping from fragment to fragment, and powerless to stop the overwhelming sadness of it all. I wake up and it takes me a half hour to snap out of it. I still got one foot in the Other World, is what I’m saying.
In my dream, it’s always nighttime, and I’m in my old cop car roaring around Oakland looking for something to do and hoping anyone at all is awake. Sometimes I’m with this girl I used to know, who I also can’t get out of my head, and who moved down to LA years ago. Other times I see my cousin, who I also haven’t seen in years. I don’t even know where that guy is now, but there he is in the passenger seat of the Doomsmobile going about a hundred miles an hour on 580, or riding our bicycles in the dark down in the Lower Bottoms. And then there’s the old Victorian house in West Oakland, in Ghost Town, where we had bonfires every night, the neighbors hopping over the fence to be with us there when they heard us chopping wood. It’s like the fella said: My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings. I have spent much longer recalling this time than I actually lived it. Back then it went by quickly and was gone before I realized it was gone. In my head, and in my dreams, I have stretched it out into a figure 8 superhighway of endless recollections. I can find anything inside of those memories if I really want to . . . can find the various equations and strange encounters that Frankensteined me into whatever it is I became and still am. It was fun back then because it was difficult and nebulous. None of us had any money or ever really slept. I was gaunt and greasy. My cousin and I would hop in the car and drive down to LA at two in the morning for no good reason, guzzling lukewarm coffee in mason jars, and smoking a whole pack of cigarettes over many hours as we ripped through the dark hills knowing that whenever it was we got there, we’d be sleeping in the car next to Silver Lake . . . and waking up to the beating sun, prompting us to get cheap diner food, and aimlessly piloting that big bastard all over the place, blitzed on Adderall and barely enough gas money between the two of us to make it back to Oakland. That was good stuff. But he’s long gone now, and so are all of those people and all of those places. Back in reality, in the here and now, I saw that girl in LA about six months ago now, and she’s a different thing now. She’s doing real well. She’s sober, and so on. I just don’t know this version of her is all. I knew her as someone else. I’m sure she’s glad to be rid of her old self, and here I am still missing her. And somehow this prompted me to contact my cousin also, having not seen him in some time now, and he was indignant that I’d bothered to say anything to him at all. I guess I’ll probably never see him again, and maybe I won’t ever see her again either. I can’t imagine why I would. The fact that all of this is good and dead, compounded with the fact that the people who populated it are as good as gone, makes sleep unbearable to me. That’s why I never want to do it. I can’t be rid of it. The real tragedy is that my mind always places me there as who I was back then, because that is the only lens through which to see it. If a wormhole opened up right now and I stepped inside, and appeared again in that möbius strip of time as present day me, it would almost make me sick, because then I would know the truth of it, which I dimly know now and look away from, which is that it was a bunch of childish nonsense that I have romanticized to escape the sorrow I feel now because everyone else has changed except for me and I’m the only one who remembers and is cursed by these useless dream-images of the past. It’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ with no guide . . . just me fumbling in the dark behind the curtains of my own stupid life! You might liken this horrifying sensation to rewatching a movie you liked as a kid, only to realize it’s total shit. It makes you wonder what you really even know at all. There is only this and the forward path. I know that. But now that I am alone with it, watching everyone around me slow down and soften, I can’t help but question myself. I’m still wearing the same beat up denim jacket with train ticket stubs and plastic cigarette filters in the chest pocket. What’s waiting on the other side? Fucking television and fuel-efficient cars and eight hours of sleep. Maybe it’s not fun anymore and hasn’t been in years, and though I can’t revive the dead thing that I miss, which is just a bunch of warped Polaroids I cradle behind some locked door in my head, I can’t seem to make something new either, which is why I go back to it again and again as though it were a haunted amusement park. I have made scarecrows out of all of these people, and populated a cardboard diorama with them. They are ageless and frozen there while my eye sockets get darker and darker when I see myself in the mirror. This girl and I are still in Cafe Van Kleef in downtown Oakland and she’s asking me to kiss her, even though I don’t want to because there are people around us, but I do it anyway and I’m glad I did. And I’m still with the Mead guys in the back of Ruby Room on a Wednesday night, chain smoking and talking about driving up to Grizzly Peak at last call. What happened to what used to happen, man? My sickness unto death is bearing the burden of Christmas past! I can’t help it: I’m wild at heart. If it’s not fun it’s not worth doing . . . and I know that if I stopped believing in myself then there will be no one left to believe in me, and I’d finally vanish. I miss these people who are gone. Do they miss me too? The worst feeling in the world is knowing you never meant as much to that other person as they did and still do mean to you. It can’t have all been for nothing, though grimly I know now that it was. It had to end, and it did. Time bottlenecked into this and left me here alone on the other side. Where are you now? Have you left me the last of the dum dum daze? Where are you now when I need your noise? The walls close in and I need some noise.