Bat Country

photo (4) It is hard to take a breath, reflect, and consider where one is with the boundless chatter and smarmy nattering of so many media about our ears. We live in an age where we all are St. Anthony, devils of all sorts thrusting at us, offering us Big Gulps and Supersized Sodom and Gomorrah, hemorrhaging bleeding opine and dark tender goddesses with oversized genitalia and who refuse to use their assigned bathrooms to pee out of whatever opening they have left after their healthcare ran out. Consider this, the singer said, down the centuries, consider what brought me to my knees.
The various news sources are focused on the Pope (now Nelson Mandela, that’s what I get for being a little late getting this out the door), but not his reorganization of Mother Church, not at all. Not the reinvigorating of such-and-such a commune with so-and-so a Godhead for eternal blahblahblah, but the economics of and his invective against what we still call Capitalism but which is a mutated system of levy and madness consuming every drop of our surrounds like The Nothing, the creation that devolved all of Narnia or whatever in that film with the Luck Dragon, that epic 1980s film where everyone had epic hair…. or was that Labyrinth? We obsessed with money are only shocked at the Pope mentioning money, because it either confirms that he is part of Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party, or a joke played on us by the Argentinians, who are still angry at the Chicago School of Economics and that big-headed kid Kissinger and his “real politic” which was code for, if it’s not me, then fuck you.
The elderly couple came across the parking lot of the station with two folding chairs. They set these chairs up, the sort with the woven plastic that perhaps you caught on That 70s Show, or saw in the 70s since you were there. They set these chairs up and then started strolling down the platform. The two platforms were somewhat being dismantled as I assume there was little money to repair them. The roofs had been torn off and stacked in a pile surrounded by that caution tape college girls wrap their boobs in. The station was a modern edifice of perhaps the 1950s vintage. The stone facade was clean and the windows aluminum and while many of them were boarded up, the space was still clean and orderly. Inside the station was a little historical display and apparently upstairs was a museum of some sort, either devoted to the railway of long ago or the city that was slowly turning to dust and condemned notices. Either way, it was closed. Inside the old station it was divided up into 1) Amtrak 2) Law Office or Strange Business of Some Sort 3) Bus station ticket agent 4) More Museum. In the museum section little cards said what old now dead person had lent or donated or forgot to pick up what remnant of an strange age were now ensconced behing glass. Old photos from when the station was of a previous age were on the wall, the old Germanic influenced building with towers and all manner of hard to maintain details that had been replaced by modern rational and affordable structures, now themselves unmanageable in this age of the cheap. This old building welcomed the first California Zepher, looking all the like some Buck Rodgers space ship, perhaps chrome and nickel and blasting through the countryside to the amazement of so many farm boys and girls – the women no longer had to take in their laundry to fear the belching smoke and embers that set the fields alight. The people clustered about the train, all dressed as if they knew this photograph would be part of a museum collection – who wants to be looking all sweat pants and fat in dirty tee shirts and plastic shoes? I wondered why the bushes from that building had been torn up, but perhaps the same reason that there was an abandoned steam engine parked out front with a sign saying “this is not abandoned, this is a monument to thousands of moving parts and to the coal that once was here aplenty.” We tore shit up because we could. And did.
The elderly couple was coming back to their chairs. This was a familiar walk. The modern day Zephyr was coming. And I was going to get on that train.
I was in the city for business. I had taken the train there since the closest airport was far away and the drive through the fields of soy and soy and soy was nothing I wanted to do since as I get older driving more than three hours not through mountains makes me crazy (I can also do 6 hours to Key West or 18 hours to Ganon). “The city had once had a…” That was now the city’s motto it seemed, even if this legend was not printed on some poster or a sign that exclaimed Dry Gulch Population 5-4-3-2-1…. Will the last one who dies here please remember to switch the lights off, thanks. The city once had a coal palace. The city once had a factory. The city once had a corn exchange. The city once had life. Had people. Had commerce at a human and manageable scale. Now it was clearly the place of the Have Nots. The dispossessed, the lazy the stupid, the crazy, the high school students who don’t know what to do with their youth or the adults who no longer know how to have fun without a beer in their hand. I stayed in the old hotel in what had been the side of town but since the center had been torn down, nuked, shat on, and spat on, decrepit and moldering and topped with a candy wrapper, this was now the new center of the city. The hotel was grand, even after it had been renovated, it retained much of its former charm and in the renovation allowed for the comforts that we all have grown accustomed to demand of our surroundings at all times and for any price. The guests were a mixture of Elk Lodge members at some strange meeting, railway workers who seemed to enjoy some company discount, and a few other randoms, such as myself, there for a vague task and a hard to describe field of employ.
photo (1)I checked in and at once to the bar I went. The bar was called the Tom Tom Club or something like Indian Wana Wana and was decorated in that way that is on the cusp of reverence and racism for a culture or distant people as all about reproduction drums and faux native drawings covered the walls, the boldest was of a chief gathered by a campfire surrounded by squaws and braves of all proportions and perspectives who danced and sang the ancient proud songs of the ancestors I believe commemorating some event that was enshrined in the city’s name or otherwise known to the locals in lore and the memories of the old only and now forgotten even by Wikipedia. This grand depiction would have belonged in the Hall of Native People in the Museum of Natural History or in the Folk Art Museum since it was clearly made by untrained hand or the MoMa because of its bold style had it not been painted in day glow colours and lit with what we today call “black lights” so the entire affair glowed with the same mystical power as a Greatful Dead poster or that one poster from Black Sabbath… you know the one I am talking about…. if you’re old enough, you goddamn know exactly what I am talking about…. At the bar was one older woman, she may have been within striking distance of elderly if not decrepit, and she was way beyond shitfaced and into black out muttering and mumblie-stumblie ordering food and leaning a little to the left. “Aaah wahn ahhh buhhgahh…. Wihhh fhhhhries…” she demanded of the server, a young girl who perhaps dreamed of the bright lights of an actual city, and so dressed the part in case some Big City Bar Owner would discover her talent. The old drunk was propped up by her less drunk and by comparison young friend. Digger, Mike, and the rest of the guys from the railroad came in and took up their place at the bar, several of them had been pre-gaming elsewhere, but for a $2 house drink here why would you go elsewhere? There was another party in one corner, a family of some sort in from the countryside and having fancy drinks and plates of shrimp. We’re 1000 miles inland… shrimp… that can’t be good. There is something unnatural, yes this is proof that our instincts are all but sequestered away and swallowed whole that we little animals would chow down on shrimp on the prairie rather than revile against this abomination, frozen and breaded, deepfried collection of crustations served in a plastic container made to appear as if a hand woven grass basket, perhaps the sort Mammy Yokum or the wimmenfolk of the Ioway wove from reeds along the river of bridges when they ate their breaded shrimp.
Outside in the streets, the city is vanishing under for rent signs and large banners on lamp poles asking people to explore a city that could pass as a ruin in the jungle that some swarthy elderly man could charge blond young anthropology students and Teach For America nitwit tour groups were they on vacation in the jungle, but here is not some fantastical location where the exotic colourful dress of the “other” and long imagined traditions and music mask gut banging and finger fucking poverty and lead to some great pictures and Facebook updates your friends hate you for because you’re in a picture with an elephant. An elephant! Like. No. This is your country, this is Main Street USA, so no middle class whelps will pay 50 cents for the tour and the place is a ghost town… minus the tumbleweed… and wooden saloon marked “Saloon.” And anamatronic (sp?) cowboys. This is real. People don’t post pictures about traveling here on the book of face. This is your own fucking culture, damn it. Go on, explore the old haunted white trash poverty pig of a city, we dare you, the banners seemed to say, come in and pull my finger, smell my taint, we’re family and there is nothing romantic about family. These vacant structures, this is not Palenque, this is not Angor Wat, this is not Studio 54, this no party… this is no disco… Ahem…. There were a few remaining shops. A thrift-store-junk-store, a junk-shop-hunting supplies, a strange Academy of Excellence sort of charter school SAT prep, perhaps front of child molesters the motto read “Touching Children Since NCLB.” This kiddie-tormentor establishment and STEM emporium sported the only fresh paint on the block. There were a few bars, but the doors were solid, the windows had bars AND wire mesh, and during the day it was difficult to ascertain whether these indeed were living, breathing, establishments of drunken mayhem and quite a few meth deals in the back or if they too had succumb to the economic ennui of the area. Sadly, this was not the only small city devoid of businesses, filled with social services and bail bondsmen and local law enforcement I had passed through. This is Middle America, and this was indeed our new American Dream where we have all become a nation of shiftless drifters and searching for a few extra dollars under the nation’s couch cushions.
The taxi driver was about my age. But he has a child. Which is normal. He told me on the ride from the hotel a sad story of coming out west to follow his daughter after his exwife moved back to her family. He had had a job, at some plant of some sort, but then lost it. He was driving a cab. A college graduate who had worked in some electrical supply firm back east. On my ride back the other taxi driver was in a similar situation as if they screen taxi drivers for their cowboy story, except he was a local who had lost the night shift and was trying to make money driving a taxi while his benefits from the military or other service kicked in, but they were delayed by this and that government antics and the job was paying shit since he had worked for two days and made a little over $25 after he paid for gas and a few snacks. Perhaps both were in cohoots in order to get me to tip them as they transported me to and from the former Target Store on the outside of the Old City now used as a public building where I was to work for the day. On the return trip I ducked in to a BBQ place I was told by the locals was an attraction if not the only reason to visit the city. The place was empty yet there was a great deal of activity since they were taking over food and supplies for a booth at the circus that was setting up across the river just on the other side of the railroad. The city apparently had been flooded a few times and this last time really took a chunk out of downtown and washed away several businesses leaving behind a much smaller berg. This BBQ place was thriving above this waterline.”We sold six of these today!” the man behind the counter exclaimed when I ordered a rip dripping BBQ grease and a bun with a side of starch of some kind perhaps mac and cheese. We’re not as busy as the other location across in the mall, but we do have our days…. and this is the original location of Pig On A Stick… Or whatever it was called. Indeed the walls were covered with all kind of pictures of all kinds of pigs on all sorts of sticks. Whatever I ordered, was very good. Despite that the place was across from the old abandoned bank that was for some reason festooned with cameras and placards that this was not hang out spot, had the ambiance of a Popeye/Church’s Chicken, and had no other observable customers, the food was solid and quite tasty and I do indeed love my salt, starch, and grease. Shoveling my pile of containers and plastic implements into the the trash, and telling myself these items turn in to unicorns and don’t just wind up for a thousand years in a landfill leaching into the ground water, I thanked my erstwhile hosts and continued to explore the ghost town in order to kill a little time before my train. I managed to go in to a store of some kind, the antiques, perhaps junk, possibly some merger of the two shope. “My father got sick… cancer…. so I am here minding the store until we figure what it is we want to do…” He did not take credit cards. The store fell across what had once been a stairway and lobby of the building into another section once an office or other buisness or such. A plaque on the wall listed the buildings. Tom Tom Bar this way (where the majority of the junktiques were), 1st floor McAlen Advertising Agency, 2nd floor office of this one and that one. The other direction the sign was no longer there. The stairs were blocked by stacks of things all of which had a sign “not for sale” when the piles on each step should have said “don’t take me to the city dump, I’m toxic.” I bought a button from the Iowa State Fair of Nineteenfiftysomething. I wandered further down to the hunting/coin/junk shop, it seemed that this was a theme in the extant businesses of the city to just give up and barricade oneself within the safety of a layer of fat and horder clutter. I managed to buy a few fossils on the cheep. It would cost more to mail them home it turned out. Lenny, how much you want for this? A man emerged from behind one of those old cubes managers used to sit, the sort with the wood barrier and little glass risers, and as if there was some mechanical floor, this man just rode into view, one of those eye magnifiers stuck in his face as if he were auditioning for mad scientist or skinflint appraiser, which considering he was in charge of the price checks on coins and petrified wood, perhaps he was the real think all our internet images are based on, I had found the font of this particular archetype, the meme source.
After my sale, I took again to the still and silent sidewalks. The Mexican butcher was closed. Gone for good. So too the jewelry store.
The porno theater was also abandoned. Which struck me. What I am not sure of is whether I was shocked that in Middle America, the supposed Bible Belt, the alleged Family Values Central that there would be a porno theater, or that the town of such-and-such a size what with it not being an anonymous metropolis even in its halcyon would allow for Walter, Cuthbert, and the boys to cut lose and get a little tang. Now, tumbleweed replaces bush and the glass is dusty and the paint is wrinkling up as if the entire structure, if not the city itself, was a living thing, and this living this has dermatitis. Perhaps I was truly surprised that the place was closed. Another victim of global competition and the Internet with free pussy on-demand and at odd hours. Betty, Lace, and Crystal couldn’t compete with millions of perfectly masturbatable photos loaded online every day. No way a meager films, a few live sex acts and one dollar drafts can put up with that and still pay for the brick-and-mortar muffin shop cum cum station.
The circus was in town. The smell of BBQ permeated every block of the quiet earth to a higher degree than before. The circus setting up on the other side of the rail tracks was somewhat that America Norman Rockwell painted, yet the idling trucks, large rigs that haul cargo and containers, made sure that there was no quiet romantic nature to this panache of carnival in the gray and dim twilight of my final day in the city of ruin.
The old couple took to their
their seats after their short promenade. The station agent came out talking to a young man who was clearly not entirely possessing nurotypical faculties, but he spoke to him kindly and in the familiar and the kid wandered away happily. The agent then chatted with the couple. It was there he pointed out the bats. Overhead, far above the wires the flock of what I thought to be birds searching in the coming gloaming of twilight for a space to roost were actually a myriad of bats, or cluster, or murder, or herd, or however bats are grouped… and these bats to a bat were circling about chirping and then diving into the chimney of the station house. “They live in the chimney?” I would hate to open up that chimney and see what falls out of that. I would want to just cover it after they all get in and then drop in a stick of dynamite, the station agent exclaimed as the chirping continued and the bats flushed themselves down the large stone pipe. Why are they doing that? I asked. I thought that bats went out at night…. Nah, they don’t. Nothing to do around here, the agent laughed and I noticed he had a few gold fillings and was perhaps older than his dark skin and only a few wisps of gray let on.
We all watched as we waited for the Zephyr listening to the tweets and chirps of the flock of bats. Watched the bats, each one a little thing, dive down the chimney hole in twos and threes as part of their mob mentality. Watched as the sky got darker and darker, becoming the colour of bats. Watched as the silent city of bridges turned on whatever lights they needed, each bridge lighting up their basic practical elements. “You meeting someone on the train?” I asked. No, we’re not meeting anyone. We come here every day, just to meet the train. At this they rested back clear that we were now to wait, we all fell silent, no more bats, conversation, no more to do than to wait for the train until in the distance the whistle that came to alert those crossing the tracks to the circus that they needed to stop for a while, and to wait as this institution arriving no less important that certain ships that plied the east and west coasts were awaited and greeted by those meeting arriving friends and family and those who met the arrival of the vessels themselves and the spectical of travel, real and imagined. One final bat dove into the station.
I gave my goodbyes to the couple. Waved at them from the window. They waved back, but then were lost as they examined the rest of the train, so many little lit windows about to plunge into the dark fields and the wilds of our mechanized farmscape that plunged ever on to Omaha and further onwards to that Westward Ho of California. I took my seat and watched the city pull out of view. The hotel, Digger and his crew, the bartender girl who made me the worst Manhattan I have ever had and yet I didn’t have the nerve to tell her so since she did put herself together quite nice and was the only eyecandy for hundreds of miles. The dripping BBQ ribs. We moved into the dark shapeless cornsoy fields lit just barely by the moon. It turns out I listened to the banners on the lamp poles. I had indeed explored the ruins of the city.
photo (3)

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