There’s A City In My Mind

IMG_2422The shootings come in as regular as the strange weather. Thundersnow. Hurricane Trixi (the “i” being dotted with hearts). Special forces cap a mom as her kid cowers in the back of the car. We used to pen all our crazies in special institutions at the edge of town. Now we turn them loose and give them guns and shoot them if they go berzerk. Snow and rain come at the same time just a few hundred miles away from one another. Drought and floods in the same county for year after year. Everyone this blogger has talked to has reported the same thing. “The weather has been very strange these past few years.” Indeed, it has been a very strange set of weather everywhere.

In the inky dawn in a nameless Midwestern city the taxi driver, an older man looking as if right out of central casting for a hill-billy, beard and all – perhaps a man of 40 who had been beaten up by life – exclaimed, “Well it’s raining cats and dogs and we got no government, so what kind of a country is that?” To which there is no easy, meteorological or political answer that would not offend.
What we can know is very little. We cannot know what the game is being played or how it will unfold in the next few weeks, however we do know that the TeeVee people, the shouting plutocracy, chattering foolios and Blitzer kibitzers are all on full-ahead yelling about whatever side they have taken and schilling the next erectile dysfunction medication cum floor wax. Flipping through the channels on TeeVee is an endless dismal assault of the senses of titty gushing flame extinguishing madness and naked barking fegalas taking catty pot shots at the “competitors” in the race to be the topbestfirstlastremainingwinning contestant in whatever sick game of pack the fudge, park the Mini Cooper, plug Anderson Cooper, tramp stamp collecting, used condom draining, dental dam food wrapping fantastic marathon. It is no wonder we are quick to be seen by the world as a vile collection of survivalists. Our political classes fight and contest. The “press” keep score. It used to be that the danger topics were sex, religion, or politics in making small talk, but weather is no longer a safe topic of idle chatter.
“Warm weather we’re having.” “No it’s not. It is normal!!!! It isn’t global warming! (Raaaaaa!!!!) Global warming is a lie! Go out a burn a tyre, the earth isn’t going to warm up!” “Cool weather we’re having…” “For now! But it will be a hot winter and it is all our fault. You need to reduce your carbon footprint! Bwaaaaaa!!!! Buy an electric car or you’re a racist!”

IMG_2371The taxi took me from the dismal rail station that looked like it was in a war, and we lost, to hotel in the downtown in what had once been a smart looking city. Having come into the city later than I expected, I took to looking for something to eat. Nothing fancy, but better than the Chicken-Huts and McTacoburgs of the open road and other regions where people call these places “restaurants” as I guess they must considering they also call that dreck at their gas stations “food.” The lady at the desk, a short plump woman of perhaps Goa origin, told me through her thick accent that I could walk but a few streets to find a market with lots of restaurants and people. I took her advice, left the front door of the hotel to the parking lot of the hotel in what had been a downtown. The grid of the city still existed, but gone was any trace of those building now reduced to parking lots and open spaces. The alley behind the hotel was a thin strip of broken cement that was the only mark that the structures that lined the main avenue had any substance. Next to the hotel was a bunker-like structure that appeared to be either an apartment or a prison or a make-work project for cement mills. There were parks with no intentional design and odd spaces perhaps post modern.
It was a strange experience to be the only person on the sidewalks of what appeared to be the footprint of a much larger city. I had arrived, too late. Not late enough that the ruins and vestiges were emerging from jungle, howler monkeys and colourful birds like Calakmul or Bonampak, or stone walls deep in New England forests that once delineated the tracts of corn from the meager herds of cattle. I had arrived well after the buildings were removed, well beyond mere abandonment or disrepair, only to find boring open spaces dotted by the few remaining examples of those terracotta clad and limestone facades that once populated the grid and make it come alive, and some whisper of the former economy that built that city and gave labour to the citizens.
Much of the life in this nameless city, as with others I have seen, has been split into that of two cities as has our nation. The rich and the poor. The destitute ghettos where squatters and drug-addled families knock apart the remaining housing stock of an older age, and those clusters of Council Housing where those who don’t dare step above their financial situation least they lose their subsidized lives have so little imagination they cannot consider another life outside of the rigid routine of poverty as they also float about in hours and days of the week having little affixed to a clock or calendar they can swing from durnal to nocturnal to crepuscular circadian rhythms as they can pop open a beer for breakfast.
Block after block was open. Empty streets and silent cement walls reaching up above, the ground floors of which were parking lots rather than stores, removing any trace of human contact.
Finally, there was a gap in the open spaces, that is, there was a cluster of structures, one of which was a historic building restored to museum quality and shaped into a high end hotel. The restaurant was dim lit, candles on white linen, it appeared like those many hotels clustered about the airport and convention or sports center, a place set apart for those in charge, a place that were I in New York City I would not even look twice or consider any more than the pigeons or yellow taxis but out in this empty and quiet city, the humidity of a cold front building up high, the clouds pink from reflected light and raked by some kind of searchlight perhaps from the airstrip or the tall banking center plopped in the middle of town, this space of well-oiled folks was out of place.
And, as a thunderbolt, the word “juxtaposition” came through my mind, since just about across from that palace of fine dinning and refined company of job-creators, was a deli mart with the typical “ETB NOT FOR HOT FOOD” and posters for malt liquers and smokes of the flavored variety. Out front, as if guarding the “No Loitering” sign, were thep meth-head looking gentlemen so common in these nameless parts of the nation. I crossed the street and the waiting car blew its horn. I had the light on my side, but whatever glance I tossed the way of the operator of the vehicle inspired him to mutter and lazy “ffffuuuuuckkkkyyyyooouu. Fuuuuuuccckkk youuu.” Instinctively, I tossed back a fully articulated and properly pronounced “fuck you” under my breath and the man in the front seat with his hands on the wheel seemed to have ears made to hear such a riposte and he made sure to turn his car in my direction and follow me, the lone pedestrian, with his car, but still listlessly loughing “ffffuuuuuukkkkk yyyoooouuu” as an infective one about to succumb to thirst or starvation may mutter at their situation, knowing that there is no sentient being to hear, but in the event the universe has ears, well, fuck you for placing me in this situation.
I was, uncomfortable, with the situation.
Slowing down my gate his creeping car seemed not to go much slower, and at the red light I lagged behind in order to allow Mr. Fuuuuuuccckkk Yooooooouuuuu to choose his direction and to then assume the most opposite of direction, if not one where the spark of life burned greater than on these expansive and alone avenues. There was life next to a junk shop. I had found the downtown improve theater. I went in to the empty front room and met the girl who was taking donations. “We’re free tonight, but you can give donations in the jar,” she whispered. “I’m looking for food, actually.” She was perplexed at first but I explained myself enough for her to direct me down a few more blocks where the cement buildings arose from their parking lot roots and the cameras adorned as the only architectural devices.
The city remained quiet and the weather people had been talking about moved in. Lightening lit up the sky and the rain was close by waiting for the signal to drop. The government remained closed as was the city. The New American City is indeed that expression of our economy, our society that has become ever out-of-touch with individual actions as it has turned to cater individual desires. The parking lot gates rise and fall for those who seek solitude. The drive of the generations to live nowhere near their neighbor or to exist in total insular existence has indeed created a landscape today only populated by the rejects, lost and impoverished and a few lost travelers along the way.
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