“That big ditch on your left is the Grand Canyon, on your right are the shitlands of America. Flat dry and empty. They stretch all the way to Californee…”
* * *
I was the first stranger to get picked up for the ride-share to San Francisco. The battered old Subaru pulled up in front of Echo Park Lake and I hopped in the front seat. My knees bumped the dash. My head was jammed into the ceiling. I put the seat back. Didn’t help.
What an old beater. The knobs to the radio were giant bolts sticking a cock’s length from the cassette deck. But it didn’t work. All for show. Coffee stains, missing floor mat, broken antenna. It looked like it’d been bought off the impound lot.
Jeremy was the driver, he wasn’t talking much, he was reading a map and driving to pick up a girl who had answered his ad. She got in behind me, I pulled my seat forward and really screwed up my knees. My ass was already numb. Jeremy navigated his creaking beater down Hollywood Boulevard, stopped in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre. An Asian kid jumped in. We were four now. The car scraped metal at every bump. Too much weight.
Those two in the back hit it off right away…well.. she hit it off…
“You’re from China? China’s really big. It’s so big! What are you doing here?”
“Looking at schools”. He knew the words, but they came out funny. “Rookin ahh skuz.”
She was rattling like a tea kettle…“China must be the biggest country in the world! What type of math do they have there? Jeremy, hey Jeremy (she taps Jeremy’s shoulder, since he is an admitted math major) what kind of math do we use? Like gallons? (She turns back to the Chinese kid) Do you use gallons or meters?”
I wanted to kill someone. Why kill myself? It’d be better to leave her alongside the highway like a litter of kittens. She’d probably wander into the road and get smacked down. Save me a prison sentence. Expensive lawyers. Three strikes you’re out.
She can’t keep quiet, she’s so excited to learn about China.
“Do you like reggae?”
“Reggae? Yes, I like reggae.” He says. He talks slow, like each word is too heavy for his tongue to lift. His lips are flexing as he talks, his jowls strain, his neck has wiry sinews jutting out as he heaves the word “Reggae” back to the chirping bird.
“I do too.” She says. She was satisfied with her communist friend. He liked reggae. The world was moving towards peace, thanks to her gentle line of questioning. She could always find the common denominator. She was a regular saint. She worked with children. These types always end up talking like we’re hearing words for the first time.
“Do you like Los Angeles” she asked him, and the way she worked her mouth made me want to stick something in it. You know what. She was going to ask if he wiped his ass with paper or used a stick. “Do you brush your teeth?” She was going to give him a lesson on double knots for his sneakers next. I’d like to pull those laces around her neck…God it made my blood boil to listen to her rambles.
I never got a good look at her. She sat behind me. Sometimes if they’re pretty enough you can just tune them out and feel good looking at their waist. Their neck. Just take your time and check out each part. By then they may be done talking. They feel better. You feel better too. But like I said, she was behind me. I had nothing to look at but my knees. The were tickling my chin.
But the driver- I could see him! What a set of lips. Jeremy. He was nearly albino, just a chromosome away from a couple of rare medical things…mongoloid-ism for instance. He’d looked at me when I climbed in, I saw straight up the caverns of his nostrils. They were stuffed with plugs of the whitest hair I’d ever seen. I looked away. Sickened.
And the Dutch-boy haircut was too much. Who models themselves after a kid on a paint can? He really had it down. Same straw color hair. Same mixing bowl haircut. Next time tell his mother to leave the bowl out, fill it with water and drown the poor son of a bitch.
The only person in the car I could stand was the chink. He mumbled a few English phrases between front teeth that looked like a short pair of chopsticks, then put his head back and closed his slits. He didn’t want to hear how big China was one more time either.
I felt bad for America. We really were the worst. Our whole population was a bunch of nitwits. The Chinaman, he was on the ball. Smarter than the three of us white folks put together. This wasn’t a stereotype. This was the four of us in a car for seven hours. I know. I was there. I KNOW. It’s OVER for White America.
The little gal was taking writing courses and thinking about studying Chinese herbs. She was thinking about studying a lot of things. Beat generation writers. Raki. Or traveling. There were some music festivals in the woods somewhere she’d heard about. Maybe she’d do that for the summer. Catch a disease, have her heart broken, swallow cum. She’d really explore herself.
She took care of children now. Wiped their noses, their asses. She was a hippy she said. The Chink and I could care less. Who was she talking to? Jeremy. The driver. But he had his head up his ass. He couldn’t talk to a woman. It got his wiring screwy. He breathed weird when she spoke.
The Chinaman, I never heard his name, never asked for it either, he wanted to find a school in America where he could study Engineering. He was interested in making a wrecking ball with Mao’s bones to swing into Alan Greenspan’s brains. Man were we fucked. America was full of losers. The only smart ones were here on a visa.
We finally stop for gas and a piss break. Two women behind the cash register are squabbling in some Oriental jive. Turned out to be Cantonese. Hong Kongers. Our boy knew Mandarin. He put those two chickens straight. They wouldn’t let us in to use the toilet. He said a few things and they stopped clucking. I went in and what a piss I took. Five hours worth. I was fire proof for a while back there. It smelled weird. Maybe the hamburger I ate for lunch?
Why do I call us losers? Now you understand.
The dizzy girl asked what the country was that smoked a lot of pot. She answered her own question.
“Jamaica. I couldn’t think of the name! HAHAHAHA!!!” Smart girl. Dizzy isn’t the beginning. She was tilted. A broken pinball machine. The flappers flapped at air. No balls.
Our white pilot, inbred from ultra northern European stock, a bunch of Viking butt-fuckers and cannibals in his lineage I’m sure. He spoke worse English than the slant eyed kid napping back there. His ugly sausage lips tripped up his vocabulary. They were too stuffed. God stuck hoofs and all in when He cased them. His lips hung off his face. Full of shit. His skin was so white he looked like something living under a rock. His nose holes were huge, as I mentioned. His fat lips may have crawled out from his brain down the nostrils, widening them so grotesquely.
His eyelids were too thin to hold pigment, the splash of veins gave off a red glow that made him look mental. Great bulging eyes. A real goblin. He squeaked out nervous laughs as an ellipses to his unfinished sentences. What a bore. What a pain. Seven hours I signed up for? Chewing on my knees the whole way. Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was the dumbest one of the lot.
They were okay. Just kids. They still had a chance to wise up. They might grow into their eyes. Learn a thing or too. Stop asking questions. Not me. I was an old dog with one trick. Biting.
I had ten years on them at least. Too poor for a train, let alone a plane. I was the real problem with America. Practically hitchhiking to San Francisco to pursue a Master degree in Poetry – at a crummy state school. I might as well be heading to Wisconsin to try shoving my dick in my ass for the folks at the county fair. It was all just as pointless as the other.
I’d put my nose in a book as soon as we hit the highway, let them talk around me. Then night came. Not enough light to read so I stared at the page until it was too dark to fool them. I had to listen, then the questions came. Growling didn’t stop them. When the little gal found out it was Poetry I studied, she asked, “Who’s your favorite poet?”
“Me” I told her. She wants to hear a name she’ll recognize. What do I care? I don’t want a gold star from her. If I play her game she’ll forget what I tell her by the time the next telephone pole whizzes past. We’re doing 75 mph. We might as well talk batting averages or recite lines from our favorite movies. She wants a bell to ring in her brain. Even better, let’s sing about beer bottles! There’s common ground. What a conversationalist! She was a real impresario. It was all names and dates with her, like a 5th grade history lesson. I didn’t like that shit then. Today I’m not feeling any different.
“I like Neruda” she told me. Oh? Hooray! She has a favorite poet! I rattled off my grandfathers’ names, a few French words, just to seem social. She liked them too. She was happy to agree. All great poets. Especially Reconteur…
That Chinese, I can’t get over him. An adventurer, a world traveler, and looking for an education. That’s the difference. That’s where I went wrong. That’s where we’ve lost.
The white kids are out looking for kicks. I was chasing the footsteps of a Massachusetts mill-town drunk, thinking that would change the world. I traveled the world myself at that kid’s age. On The Road. I was watching it all going by, looking at how one country’s girl’s asses stacked up to the next. I was excited to be able to drink in bars without a fake ID. Yeah, I loved to travel. The different plants you could chew, smoke and snort. That was the life. Never read a book that had any facts in them. I loved opinions. That practical stuff wasn’t the way, not for me. Poetry. Travels. Binges.
But this little Mandarin, he was here to get a trade. To learn a skill. Sure, he’d have a little fun, take in some sights, try to put his dick somewhere hot and moist. But when he got to be my age, he’d have something. He wouldn’t be trying to decide if he should start rhyming his stanzas again or not. He’d have a bridge built. Maybe a missile silo pointing at my university. His favorite poet? He probably had an answer to that too.
I undid my pants…I was going to get that dick of mine in my ass if it killed me.