Thursday, February 25, 2010

the blue knight: part 1, city of nest

Anything you use every day, you have the right to insist be exactly the way you want it. Dhalgren, however, presumes that anything he uses every day, meh. He'll settle for whatevs. He's felt the chain slipping on his chain ring (now and again) for months now. His brakes mostly work. His bar tape is peeling and gummy and the saddle's plastic cracks match the crumbling front tire wrapped around a warped front wheel shy a few spokes and wobbly (like a gap-toothed smile): a wine cork stuffed into the bar end holds some scraps of scraped-raw bar tape in. The whole apparatus is filthy, and certain of his kludges rattle without cease when in motion.

It's his philosophy that's at stake. All his bikes have girls' names, and his idea of bikes and women is to ride them into the ground and go get a new one. His taste in bikes is considerably better than his taste in women and this creaking heap of abused old touring bike fraying around the edges has outlasted all his jobs and all but one of his women. (At that, he's got tshirts that have endured half of his flailed life.) What isn't going on, bike or woman, is neglect or abuse. His compact is a partnership, use--hard and constant, to be sure, but entirely reciprocal. He never goes off of curbs: he opens every door and carries every parcel. Would be better if these didn't limn the absolute limits of his deference. Would be better if the absolute limits of his attentiveness weren't chain lube every half a year and constant cunnilingus. None of this was on his mind.(1)

Punks of a certain age generally have little interest in punk rock. Surely they had their run with the definitive exponents, the shirt brands now available at the mall, and know every word and most of the chords for the Ramones/Misfits/Clash/Sex Pistols/Black Flag(3)/Minor Threat(4) and they usually still have one of those ranked fairly high on the list of things they would/do actually put on deliberately to listen to(5), but those are vestiges, atavistic remnants, prototypical representations of the intersection of generic tropes and biographical periods of discovery.

All digressions aside,(8) punks frequently don't actually bother listening to punk rock. On purely aesthetic grounds, this isn't much of a surprise. The formal business of the genre generally involves stripping popular, often early, rock idioms down to the very basics--three chords, 4/4 time, verse/chorus structure, maybe a bridge. Short slogans for lyrics, short words. Choppy melodies. A brute limitation on both the acceptable combinatoric rules and the formal elements subject to same.

All this means it's a pretty quick procedure to assimilate all that these songs have to offer. The difference between the 10th time you've yeard "I've had it" and the 100th is just the addition of boredom: it's impossible to extract more information from this structure because there simply isn't any more there.

In general, then, we see punks gravitate towards formally simple works (trainwreck beats, lotta density on the low end) but with a little higher information content and unpredictability. Besides metal, there are three rap bands all punks like: NWA, Public Enemy, and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Niklavs Dahlgren sat on his porch, glaring at a pair of bicycles. The Wu-Tang Clan played in the background.

Twenty blocks away, Ross glared at a chapbook. What's somewhere between the makings and leavings of one, anyway. Her right hand manipulated chopsticks, "toying idly" with the remnant of tempura in its little bin. Left hand shoved a blunt stub of pencil over some object on a paper scrap, then proposed an alternative in the margin. Lone people gravitate toward restaurants, as cooking for one is an arid endeavour. Lone people of introspective bent gravitate toward restaurants where they can sit alone without imposing/enduring a pariah vibe--one person at a four-top looks, entirely unavoidably, like a freak. A two-top isn't much better. A counter or a bar is ideal and far the idealer if the food can be eaten with one hand. This leaves the other free to handle the necessary book. The big Sapporo looked like a fucking barrel in her small hand, the pencil jutting awkwardly out unabandoned, and she'd put down all but a couple centimeters of the beer, yet still it sweated. Her chapbook was a response, in large part, to a pathetic letter she'd once been written by an ex, ostensibly an efford to explain the awkward post-relationship interactions he'd demanded, then chafed against, all the while pretty transparently advertisements of availability. (All noble things are touched with melancholy.)

Ross' initial response to the letter had been the continuation of her not ever calling or seeing him or thinking about him when he wasn't there. Eventually her rage at these rejectable, abandonable men, a lifetime of them and their sullen, impacted failings, coalesced a little, and she began to write. The project began as it always did, with a few dioramas sketched, x-actoed out of thin cardboard, pinned and pasted together. An empty street, the first, with men facing each other at top left and right corner, a woman in bottom right corner, facing left. Everybody blocky, chunky, a strange mix of profile and 3/4 recognizable from 2D side-scrolling brawlers. A couple pop-up portraits of the principals she counted as maybe the most satisfying drawings she'd ever made. She signalled for another beer. Tried to reread a piece, but had to exhale a vast and stale breath, look at the ceiling for a couple seconds and realize the limits of her stamina had been reached.

She left 3 on 27 after slamming the beer back with a practiced desperation.

As her bootheels hit the pavement, Niklavs Dahlgren's hand grabbed the wrench and he grunted with that leaning effort. He was not thinking about music, or punk, or even really thinking about his bike. He sat on an overturned milk crate, while white-guy-approved rap blared from a battered boom box. His hands were almost completely black, his roommate's toothbrush utterly ruined by chain filth and organic solvent. A choking cloud of sickly citrusesque hung unnoticed by Dhalgren, who had a huge hank of chew stuffed in his craw. Solvent dripped from the frame and spattered the frame and floor with the grime it carried. He spat a thumb-sized drool of browned water into an ancient glass coffee cup and glared at the acorn nut. The Wu-Tang Clan noted they were not to be fucked with. Dhalgren and a quart of beer sweated on the porch in the autumn afternoon sun.

Dhalgren never knew the mad monk, the venerable (and consecrated) Brofather Flynn 'Potatoes' O-Brien, and was an adherent of no coherent school on the matter of the soul. However. No coincidence that his bike is somehow sculpture/enactment of that soul, a manifestation and (thus a) product of it; nor that another dimension or moment of that soul has been fed, nurtured, bolstered and constituted by each moment he's spent riding and especially working on his old beater. Souls are tricky critters. It is--barely--possible to have one working with neither your hands nor words (symbols?), but the evolution of the species has pushed hard toward these avenues. There are those who even dis the bike/soul connection, pointing at the manifold chains 'tween car and penis, linkages b'tween them so robust it's actually not always possible to say what's standing for what. (Of course, those who do this pointing have forgotten a reasonably large percentage of the ensouled population.)

If Dhalgren ever got his brakes satisfactorily adjusted, he halfassed a handwash and whipped up spaghetti with meatballs. Put his plant on the back porch. Passed out hours later, a case study in the emotional capitalism of scarcity economics.(9)


Out at the knees--scarf, suit jacket, gloves, glasses, head wrapped in another scarf. The only flesh visible small angles and planes of the face and those fragile joints peeking and poking through battered denim.

Dahlgren saw her, of course, around, had seen her but barely noted her, just another severe (dyke?) bony chick, thin blood, big nose and eyes pale and darkhaired--altogether the kind of chick he always scores if he scores a chick and a fur piece away from the healthy, hefty athletic lady he currently craves.

Pushing back on 40 (hard), fifth city in--what--16 years, over a dozen cities lifetime and this one, she'd have to concede, no better. Not the fix or food she'd been, always, craving.

She'd mastered some of the magics (by affinity, and necessity, by habit and by inclination), she knew the free refills, the half-dollar books, the slow meals one-handed eaten so she could still read. These, the only ways to divorce time from money. She knew a rough brown blazer or a sweater, & hair pulled back, not too tight, would get her a men's near-pass--not invisible but rarely central either (the men who'd fancy her were the most likely to be incapable of mounting an assault on her clear shields).

A rough city, this east bay--immune, apparently, to the charm once wrought by Mr. Ford, by which wage and cost were welded together. Here, everything would be priced at a premium, life and labor excluded from the equation. For that matter, jobs themselves were hard to find.

Savagely proud, particularly about those things which mattered least, she'd been up against the wall before a job'd been offered. She deigned to notice, then accept. The offer.

(It is a disservice to this woman that I do not know her name. I shall compound this--I hope only to my expense--by pinning her with a Ross. [Rhyming only visually and by connotation with "loss", natch.])

She knew it only made things--but, then, sometimes you have to make things--worse, when she'd push up her sweater's sleeves, shave to the elbow her collared button-up and show off the thick, wide, faded lines. Bones and knives, spiders and bedraggled fathers: when half-glimpsed by her admirers, they seemed more runes, signs to conjure with (like her eyebrows) or a lost map of the one, fabled, fulfilling, city.

A hard face, more owlish than mousy, despite a frankly hawkish nose. Old fables are short on athletic women. This perhaps helps explain the difficulties in of her living her life. (Without maps, schemas, hints or walkthrus.)

Another box of wine, another can of soup.

Where to take your desk was to feel like you were hearing a song you'd never hear again or forget.

Another sheaf of pages cadged from the copier discards, covered in her cramped scrawl, her angry curiosity, nearly forlorn against the equations she sought to solve.
I will not commodify my inner life. Or am I just poor--broke and afraid, poverty ruling purse and person alike?

That Connie from the coffee shop, how is she, how does she when she hugs a customer, what does she see when she sees him seeing her (or what sees she when she sees him not!)? Her half-octave drop, the eye contact scattered like a handful of change as bait of the urchins, does she ever cramp or weep or open a jar for herself? I'm just being a cunt for knowing I'm better than her, larger and more filled, yet still wanting the pathetic moraine men's eyes leave to her...
Pages like this, some nights, others
Walking under the tracks earlier I thought of Kuarl and (her dots in a differently spaced hand) who CARES?

And not another entry for a month.

Black moods might last uninterrupted weeks, her skull grinding tectonic plates of fury and despair, shearing or buckling sometimes, the chasm resulting worse than the cataclysm. Because sometimes then things could get in.

Worse than this, though, were the strained stretches the world just bit from her and swallowed, August to December not forgotten or ignored, just absent from her memory, as they'd been absent from her experience, really.

First, it was always too hot--a stifling heat, now dry, now wet, always the air staying still. Windows Moses couldn't've opened with a hammer.

First thing to go was the boots, tall, brown and battered, unlovely with scars, burns and no polish. At nearly knee high and leathern, though, they didn't breathe for shit, ended up abandoned to an uncluttered corner of her rented room. She didn't know it, but that first weekend afternoon she struggled from sleep into her (solitary) afternoon and the boots seemed too much trouble, that day she was lost.

Still it was too hot. Nobody else layered up like she did, and the hallway to her floor was always punishingly hot, so she took to stripping down outside--shedding blazer and sweater or hoody, careful to keep cuffs shot past wrists and her lip uncurled.

Do they fucking get it, don't they? Do they see the keys clipped to my belt, three of them, one to a church, plus a corkscrew. It's got to be obvious to anybody's looking, but is anybody looking?

Lingering sometimes (almost always) over single-handed sushi, Ross thought of the boyfriends, the pinball players who stood tree-still at the machine, fingers and eyes moving fast, the pinball players who practically danced with the machine, feet and knees flying, slaps and hand-claps and shots, the criers and the huggers, the restrained and refined, the rich, the racist and the righteous, she remembered the secret pornographers and the sheepish masturbation. She remembered letting one drive, making another, coming like a rocket with a guy she barely tolerated and never getting off with one she'd wanted to love. She thought about one-night stands on a woman's couch, in a rich man's car, in her own bare room on a yoga mat on the floor.

It all seemed so fucking remote, the time of having cars, the time of being married. For that matter, the time of boyfriends, sex and regularly cleaned clothes.

Two pairs of jeans--newish thick stiff denim with a stout belt, old silk-thin pair, very nearly tight even on her bony thighs. It's a natural law that walking forms new and focuses old memories. How then could it be that four months had passed and nothing? Flasks snuck into infiltrated matinees, sushi three times a week (20 on 18) and smoking cigarettes rolled in the rain and nothing. 10,000 pages read and nothing. One-night stand or two, no surprise here nothing.

122 days and not a memory.

It's a long walk from her box of an apartment through the arid, pointless downtown, the reeking dampness of Chinatown and the horrifyingly loud filth of the tunnel to the island made out of trash. Or anyways built on it. There, just out of the tunnel's sullen maw, a bit past the glistening marina, squats a building nearly invisible in its bland brick squarity. It's a long walk, but Ross' spidery stride chewed miles and the urban always spat up something new for her to look at, a new wall scrawl or the street-gilt of broken glass or a man's excrement (once topped with a dime) and all the shoes and leavings of the city's evicted and rejected and mobile. That wheedling and strange building, though, she never did look at, her eyes sliding away as her gait broke down to a sidle, her mein altogether that of the abashed teenager she'd never been.

In her cube, her fingers moved like her walk: fast, aggressive, staccato. Her thumbs smacked the space bar "like it owed her money".
Hey wannah it the Hanson brothers show next week?
not as good as nomeansno
fun live show, though!
not if youve seen the realthing
Whoever used her cube on the day shift was one of the Lord's own slobs, she thought. A packrat and clutterbug addicted to printouts and postits, endless glossy paper ejaculated from sticker machines glimmering from the cardboard walls, crumbs and curly hair everywhere. Even so, when she was there, the space always would seem Spartan, empty.
broke brought my own
(Both more or less false. She'd stalk down to a place where she could see the marina's lights shake while she smoked a pinner. She'd eat her lunch at her desk, on the clock, as she always did, and she'd glare at the roll of bills in the Bustelo can after she hit the bank, as she always did.) She was angry with herself for being young and the prey of restless foolish impulses, angry also with the change of fortune which was reshaping the world around her into a vision of squalor and insincerity. As she waited for the network or waited for the tool to render, she poured scorn and rage and contempt into another .txt file.(10)

Her completely unironic mental title for the bulk of her projects was Up against the vaginal walls, motherfucker!. Her chapbook was to be an evisceration of the asinine fellows of the city(11) intercalated with a highly ramified limning of the poverty of a woman's life considered in its economic, political, psychological, sexual and particularly intellectual aspects. It took the form of an extended insert for her fictional band's hypothetical single: entitled:
Mountings and Moleskins b/w Bummed at the Gyno

Angry walk "home" after work took her to nearly three, then sleepless gin hours until down and a sleep could come. This swing shift imposed a solitary schedule on the isolate Ross like few she'd known in her four decades. Impossible even to grab a quick drink with a coworker after, leaving for her long walk before anybody else was done with their own jobs. Morning and afternoons of slow drink and cold library sojourns, long sketches of graffiti, mural and stencil.

The city was signalling her, in its shrapnely way, responding to her pace. Just barely slow enough to gestalt the city, and in streets enough to synthesize its many sherds into most of a message. She was faster than some bikes, missed some stuff, but hasn't ever conceded that these ambiances are communicative, hasn't ever given her attention to this nurturing surround and (thus) has been fighting the city for 40-some years, always turning down the unfulfilling street, always stumbling into someone, always hearing nothing but the cacophony dozens of tuning instruments, never hearing the symphony cohere.

Six months she'd worked there, frowning silent through pointless meetings, meeting every overture with featurefree rejection, pouring boiling fury onto paper and into burgeoning desktop files, when the email to everyone arrived, naming no names as it insisted she stop violating the heretofore imaginary dress code. Six months and a week when it was announced that the piss tests they'd taken to secure this employment would need to be verified and reverified at random. Six months and three weeks when all files were moved from the desktops and harddrives to the server and made explicitly subject to inspection. Seven months when the "team" was cut by a third and a witheringly negative series of performance reviews began. Ross bought slacks, lost the jewelry, gave up the weed and the prework beers. Deleted all the files unread.

As she shed and abdicated the things that made her her, her father resurged somewhat, began to undodder in his trailer, began again to receive information from all life and pattern, again to slip his will into the warp and weft of the lives he chose.

A mode of summoning: quiet city night, fan on and very spare music very low. The city and the music will blend, mostly unheard, under the white noise, and the right ears there in the dark will come to hear the growls and gutterings of the cyclopean, subterranean forces that mostly drive the blind city.

O-Brien lives and thrives. Poor Ross flounders, fails, dies. Nothing quite so simple as declaring life to constitute a zero-sum game. More that power extracted, harnessed, imposed, etc., is. Is.

Ross took her mother-in-law's tongue to work one thursday, by the bus, and it thrived there in the cube, among the ergo-stretching diagrams and productivity shortcut enhancement printouts adorning her walls. The tuesday before that, she'd lost her stout sheaf of writings, absently abandoning them after another burger lunch, as O-Brien rode a wave of power he hadn't felt in half a century of cheap gin on ice. Dhalgren outlined a horror novel about a beautiful woman on the back of an envelope, then tore it open to outline some porn about vampires, two stories that would eventually get him well and truly paid. His basil plant died and he called his ex to apologize for being a bad caretaker, unshruggingly telling her "I'm not for sale; I'm just here for fun": they had some cataclysmic sex, the kind only accessible to people with a lot of shared history, a commitment to acting as though unfinished business doesn't exist, superbly toned core muscles, a lot of unfinished business, enough trust to engage in condomless rough sex in a drunken evening, obliterated night and beer-floated morning while wearing out three holes and grinding blood into a man's beard and the spiky forest around his cock.

What's at stake here is that (t)his bike isn't so much a sculpture of his soul as a transformation of it--the same thing, transposed into a different medium or dimension. The ancient and unlubed and filthy chain driving everything side to side and only accidentally forward(2) and the bar tape scraped clean to metal by crashes on both sides, then covered in blackly looped wraps of electrical tape, the plastic fender held over the back wheel only by a scrap piece of rusted chain, the gap-toothed front wheel wobbling eccentrically and the cracking tires, these are not exponents of failure or neglect. They're just the indexes of daily hard use accumulated sorites-like into an actual history, an atlas of time, rather than place; a soul.

The contribution of activity willed and unwilled to the creation, supplementation and maintenance of the/a soul--so you get chipped away at by the latter, mostly, but can be scaffolded and erected (hopefully more than merely shored up) by those things done with intention and enthusiasm.

In terms pertaining to the base, what might make a man fix a bicycle? Well, he'd bought a little porn, at the flea market, but he'd used it already and a chasm of afternoon had lain before him, horrifying in its emptiness, its pointlessness. So much he could fill the time with and so little of it that could amount to anything.

This is true. From the standpoint of physics, the process of riding a bike is precisely steering in a way such that the bike doesn't tip over.

[body paragraphs above and these notes taken from On the soft generosity of bass neck: Some inquiries into some values, Jarkko Clenninden, forthcoming, Kuolema/Jokerit Press.]
Interesting split here--Black Flag released half a dozen singles with 3 or 4 different singers before settling down with (the) one with whom they'd achieve their greatest fame, some ice-cream vendor named Henry Rollins. Now, this incarnation actually released full-length albums. In vast quantities, actually. However, it's notable that:
a) the first record is extra-great and incorporates some material from earlier singles
b) everything after side 1 of the second record is basically dogshit

Oddly, there are still punks who take Henry Rollins seriusly. You'd think doing a Gap ad and sucking at everything for decades would put paid to his credibility, but, apparently, no.

Slightly younger punks will generally replace these with something like Operation Ivy/Crimpshrine/Filth, a riot grrl band or maybe a local/regional act. When punks of this age meet those of that slightly older age, they will, as of this writing, no longer engage in long, impossibly stuffy symposia on the provenance of emo.

This reveals the thoroughgoing obsolesence of my musical-facilitation modalities. Everyone I know uses their computer as the primary locus of their music collection. Indeed, generally at this point the computer is the sole location of their collection.

My artifacts comprise a couple hundred cassette tapes, a half-dozen milk crates of vinyl, a couple beer boxes of 7" and a short bookcase of CDs. I have a computer with a couple dozen of those CDs ripped to .mp3s so I can listen to them on a walkman of 1 gig capacity.

What I listen to is thus savagely constrained by where I listen to it. In the kitchen or bathroom, it's one of the few dozen tapes not currently languishing in storage, played through a flea market boom box, in my room it's generally a CD, as my turntable is usually buried under a moraine of CD cases, empties, spit cups, trade paperbacks and shit. Out of the house, I'm down to my walkman. This technical limitation, purely mechanical and material, constrains my practice thoroughly--so thoroughly that it is difficult for me to consider the psychology of those whose entire library of music is customarily carted around in their gleaming Chrome bag.

In operational terms, we(6) could probably get away with replacing "choose to listen to" with "doesn't roll eyes and immediately hit 'skip'".


I try by this rhetorical flourish to obtain your complicity.

Probably not.

The capitalism of the heart, the belief that the essences of life too can be seized and hoarded, that you can corner the market on confidence, stage a hostile takeover of happiness. It's based on scarcity economics, the notion or perhaps the feeling that there's not enough to go around, and the belief that these intangible phenomena exist in a fixed quantity to be scrambled for, rather than that you can only increase them by giving them away.

[Ross' application letter to the Thorn Triad--once recorded by that noted blogger]
They [my old opinions] have deceived me sadly. I was taught to think, and I was willing to believe, that genius was not a bawd, that virtue was not a mask, that liberty was not a name, that love had its seat in the human heart. Now I would care little if these words were struck out of the dictionary, or if I had never heard them.

Buffoons, poltroons, idiots, imbeciles, assholes & elbows, this job. I am become surrounded all day every day by the worst and most pedestrian sort, who judge the shoddiness of their performance acceptable b/c they disdain their assignment.

I am sure they all know neither who nor how they are.

Base Frank seems to think that slovenly dress and a rigorously shambling swagger will insulate him from the environmen(t). As though nobody's read Bourdieu. Ghastly forced jocularity in all his workplace communication betrays his internalized anxieties, however; the only interesting question is whether or to what degree he's managing to fool himself. (An uninteresting question: which is correcter:
His bicycle exceeds his ignorance
His ignorance is exceeded by his bicycle)

Karen. White pants always make me think that asshole's never had a period.

Are you familiar with operating in an office environment dominated by the cubicle?

I am not tall, and I do not walk around much. Even so it is not hard to observe necks craning, backs briefly straining straight that eyes may rove over the near. What are they looking for?

How many? How many days can a person go without one single connection, a single conversation, how many days in a row?(12)

My days? Barring a little surreptitious auto-erotism and homosexuality--absolutely nothing. But don't push your luck. I won't always play my part. For the actress is the female part of me, and as a female I am an idiot, archaic, a slave of instinct who can't exercise her intelligence. As I write, I live. I write as a man. For "The universe has insulted him, and like his prototype, King Lear, he has run all his grief and anger into one pool of hatred."

Coffeeshop citizens with expensive journals a-scribbled, cigarettes hand-rolled and heads headbanded. XY chromosomes to be sure but lives lived as gestures mainly against any positively valued version of western masculinity. Young athletes in the early stages of consumption. Men with taste and opinions, if not always jobs. One could go on. Ross did.

Here is a conversation she would never (get to) have.

"It's not about social conditions. It's about the soul."

"But, you see," he said infinitely gently, "that's the same."