% [stoner adventures: cont'd...] One last night on the city: we stow our bag and Spike eats the roach of the joint we've just smoked. I get another drink from the remaining bottle we have, a liter of Night Train. Against the cold we are wearing only jeans and our thicker jackets. Spike's is a bit faded light tan soft leather with collar and cuffs of slick brown hide, cured smooth. Mine is German military, with modifications for bag stowing. Tonight the bud I've got is California long grain, known so because it resembles extended Thai -- longer, thinner buds, a bit dry and brown when drying, but incredibly potent. This one comes from Curracao, California, where a friend of mine owns a mushroom farm, and has lights in a shielded corner of the dungheap -- they grow mushrooms on cow shit -- and grows this amazing stuff, incredibly well-nourished. We split an ounce, and, after sales, I have a tidy bag left, free. Friends are a wonderful thing: they intervene in times of no or little dope, and they bail you out when you're in hell. There are people all over this country I haven't seen in years perhaps but could probably easily smoke out with. Not just the bullshit bumming of smoke: but smoke out, and perhaps pass out, even, and not feel as if an interlocking puzzle of ice had dropped a unique piece into the between of me and they. I like smoking dope with friends, but there's friends and there's friends. Some friends are good - Spike I don't doubt would pull me out of anything - and some are pretty good, stoner friends to have a good time with, but not the people who save you from the world, yourself. Reminds me of the gunfighters Earp and Holliday: both psychopaths, killers, but they knew how to love each other as friends and psychopaths, and never let each other down. Good stoners like that. Paranoia is accepted status quo in the stoner community. Beyond the obvious fear of law enforcement ("The biggest problem in this country today" - Skunk Jr. stoned altitudinal) there is always fear of isolation enhanced by the displacement of being stoned. It doesn't place you in a new world, just a different one. It's not a good nor an evil world: anything is possible; it's not just some silly happy flowerhair trip. Paranoia is accepted, not questioned. Dealt with. Stoners very tight in the end of the fear twisted tight like the end of a joint. Everything stained with the resin of paranoia; you can smell it. Brownish like pissstains on the wall of a small bathroom in a toilet of an apartment. I had known Monk for six weeks before I ever smoked with him. Some people are quiet but Monk is quieter. Not cold quiet, just quiet. As if entirely abstracted from the situation, but he is just spotting it from a distance. Something he told me later about the days of youth as we tried to shout through the hey's and whines of the bickering wheedling crowd stuffing the room. We left back door of bar, went to the umbrage of burglar bars on glass that sold us a halfrack of watery, aluminum-spittle beer, and then ended up in his flat, as he reffed it. We broke out beers and were talking about how much of a fuckin' mess the bar was, and were just bullshitting in general, when all of a sudden he asks I wanna smoke. There are about four seconds you can take for a reply - maybe less - but that time took the thoughts of time: I had known him for some time, liked him a lot for all of his reticence (I talk a lot, endlessly, non-linearly) and had heard a lot from him, and so said, yeah, after the perceptible delay but without hesitation. We smoked and talked, and learned a lot about each other. Monk got burned in a few bad deals, got tired of being looked at and expected, got tired of the grooves in which to be known, and then got tired of the fighting against that, when all it was was fighting, to him. Monk wanted life; he quit the stoner thing and hitched with the Navy. I didn't think that would work, and it didn't, but we lost track of him after discharge. Back to narrative. I get on the bus first, walking point in the city. We're going to a far district, a semi-sequestered subcity where most of the usual laws aren't enforced for reasons of inadequate and overworked law enforcement and liberal local government. I like places like that: non-intrusive. We don't cause many problems, at least fewer than the residents of the place. First towards The Pie House, a twenty-four hour outlet serving pies in a floundering ripoff of the House of Pies, a similar establishment. The Pie House is shaped like a large box with a traditional slanting house-roof. It is up in that roof that we go. We get off the bus and go inside. Past the bathroom is a door marked 'Employees Only.' Employees and stoners are often synonymous. We go. There's already two people at the table, Tomas and I don't recall, perhaps Aditya -- Adi from back when I would stay up all night every night smoking pot, lots of pot, and seeing what fun I could have learning about distant computers the old- fashioned way. Tomas is a Swedish friend who can compose odd modern music symphonies on piano and does so routinely, stoned on ferocious imported pot. He does not use a synthesizer. He finds them abominable from key feel to sound, and insists on a real piano. Of course he doesn't hide his dope in it: too expected. He stashes it in the metronome, a wooden pyramid, holding guard on the top of the piano. Nevermind that he probably needs a metronome as much as an old subway car. This room is here for stoners. The management here are stoners, and aren't too busy about hiding it, especially as it gets them business for the high school crowd. This room is also strictly up periscope: one hears the dope here, so to speak. Within ten minutes Tomas and Adi are stoned to brain rupture, and take turns on the phone summoning others. Eleven minutes means eight people. More dope passes around, Spike and I already loaded to the gills and afternoon is barely killed yet; but it is a rule in the stoner code never to fear how intoxicated you are or where you will go, to save the energy for focusing on how to do what you must. The truth unfurls like a sluggish, drunken tongue: no police action on us, some Hypnosian skunk and Crucifixion kind bud (grown in empty cannon shell casings in Jerusalem: affords cash to live during wartime, which there appears to be as common as rush hour) infiltrating the south of the city. One of the Stark brothers has some kind of money rig set up with the DA and knows when things are bad for any of us -- as if cop questions don't clue stoners in either. Over joints in corners of cities, landings of fire escapes, freight elevators, vans, crawlspaces, water towers, condemned buildings, square apartment rooms with rinsed white walls, bellfries, stained-whitewall bathrooms, parking lots, dumpsters, limousines, shadows of doorways, the word is passed. The light of the joint flickers with the words, which pass from stoner to stoner, whatever side of society they lee upon. Something of our structure seems to be known, but they can never connect up the clues: we're seen as a group of low-end criminals, when our society stretches up within the greater society. Out there in the mass of people, it seems like just a clump, a random hunk of humanity thrown into some space for temporary storage. But if you looked through the crowd you could see the stoners, and figure that's the crowd. It's connect the dots; through all the faces there are more orders than just stoners, more recognitions in the blurring rush of faces. Stanley has brought some Polka Dot Thai. Polka Dot gets its name from the contrast of the very white seeds against the burnt brown color of the rich bud itself. Goes down rough but is worth the pain. It's an incredible, lasting high, suspending you out over the crisscrossing electric lines of the night. Jonas reaches behind him and grabs a floor vacuum, upright with a snakelike hose and attachment, short, for cleaning stairs and shelves. Luckily the mouth is about the necessary size for that labor, and the attachment fits neatly over most mouths. A quick flick of the switch pumps a substantial amount of smoke through the water in the gut of it, filling the lungs more than sufficiently with succulent smoke. It's the longest-lasting electric bong I know. &interlude: hypothesis of incarnation of desensitivization, of dissonant expectation of obliteration, filtration and isolation, abstraction of perceptions. devastation impelling emigration, after exigencies of evasion from febrile discontiguous orientation, hallucination. regression to primary vocalization: egress of reification, ejection. indecision. The two stoners walked into the street stiffly, young men arrayed in brown and tan. They walked shoulder to shoulder casually, a short distance apart, without speaking but comfortable with this absence of noise, realizing a communication which did not require sound thrown at the maw of expectation. Turning down a side street, one produced a small stick of marijuana wrapped in paper printed with a notice of nonpayment. The other accepted, and they shared the joint, a distant orange star migrating between them down the alley. Down the darker avenue to a bus stop. The bus departed from the City of Despair to the Gates of Delirium. ("I don't know what will happen," he recalled saying, after years of being unable to remember, "since we've been waffling around in this place long enough for them to put out notice on us if they catch us on the nearby roads." Burr just looked at him, as he said, and said something like, "We can give them time to forget about us. We seem to be doing alright now," and resumed his locked stare past colliding molecules of air into the darkness submerging the passing terrain.). &&Transmigration. Leaving the flatly constructed hotel room took no grief. The walls were cardboard painted pimply with textured paint, the floors hard-packed carpet, worn into pavement with the passage of wet feet, endless feet, leaving in it a vague stench of bacterial decay, but strongly muted under suffocating purulence of antiseptic cleaner. Designed to stench like various spring flowers: their cleaners crawled the walls, mopped the floor, sterilized the toilet seat worn through to pressboard wood, falling with a hollow beat against the cheap porcelain, stained by corrosion in rings like a cut tree trunk. Our duffel bags sunk limply against a wall; we took them. My laptop rig had rested on the cheap pressed-wood desk; I moved it to safekeeping in our vehicle: we purchased it as we had thought we would from a lesser used lot on the southern perimeter of the city, a potential ripoff except for our stoner tactic of obliterating the salesman with some hydroponic Canadian green. We walked him until we found a car worth taking; we took it, paid a few hundred less, and wandered onto the road. Its soft sneakered tires nuzzled curb and muttered their way along hot pavement, a subdued exit. It is an anonymous Ford, made with Japanese help some time ago, more than a functional box only in its advertisers' minds. Projection screen televisions everywhere play the commercials, and we use them to time our returns to the bar, oblongs of light under dark wooden obstacles in the shadow of the place, a cave-ish concealment, retreat from the outside paradox of enlightened overload. Finding another hookup isn't hard here either: most businesses have several links, and sometimes one can be patched to, as the case of the air conditioning repair shop I crouched behind, in the protective walling and stench of a dumpster, free to type even as police cars cruised within feet of my hiding place. Stars rotated minutely in the window of the absent dumpster top. A/C repair personnel treat netlinks like power cords and put the hookup on the side of the building; some thin network wiring, a converter and I were now prowling the ranges of the net. First to set up a convenient, secure jumping point - there to another site, from there another - now looking backward, scanning, to verify that I'm not noticed. Now to that other site - and the surprise of the night when it's not there. Not not answering, but not extant. "Judas priest," I whisper. "What?" - Spike, in the far corner of the dumpster, a lighted end glowing with his breath of speech. "That site vanished," I say, manipulating deeper into the network, losing the surrounding world in my absorption. I had stowed the file in several places, several sites I could use with impunity, but only one had it. Retrieve to local machine - a large file - and bail. "Going going gone now," I spit at Spike as I'm over the top of the dumpster. He follows; we are gone into the adjacent field when police cars hit pavement at high speed, leaving sparks over speedbumps, searing to a stop where we were. "Out - to the car - fast," and we are into the night, another pattern of lights smearing into a massive intricacy of them, all in motion, their tracing paths overlaying each other. Parking our box we go into the cafe, and it is here that I realize how stoned Spike and I are. When he looks back at me, body half-turned from the register, I see the fringes of wet redness in his eyes, a sweltering glow rising in them. I ask for a coffee and skip the danish: more cardboard, baked with sugar to conceal. Idolize the iconization: beer ads in more cardboard, cardboard breasts pressed against the window. Spike gets a danish. We watch traffic, as if in a seventies movie. Traffic gets lost in the diffracted orange-brown refraction of twilight as the city caves in for the night. To where? Spike nibbles, then devours, folding the danish into his mouth. We are unfound, now, but their searching takes them through the lights and links and lines of the city, scanning for the hint of our voices in the refraction of the multitude. All we have are our voices. Pass calm. Lapsing noise of cars passing, soft fading. Along the aisle of shops lights fade, metal gratings clatter to rough cement floors, inches past the smoothed threshold of the same substance. Night never fades; it crashes silently into the periphery of vision and then intensifies in darkness. One can tell as the contrast of the lights rises, and then everything takes on the slick obscured perspective of night darkness. Not really a photonegative of day, but given enough time to get used to it, an inversion of the day: release, disconnection. "...Harvey, don't call me that," intones the waitress, and slams the phone down. The drum solo has ended. We are the only two left, our plastic cups suddenly brittle in the outside light shining through their rims, the old man with heavy thick slab fingers poked through his cup mumbling to himself the other there. Her black phone encoffined, she turns with a contrast smile: we tip and leave. We're into the night. It isn't unlike making love to enter the night: it takes a push out the door, the initial shock, confusion, blindness, and then absorption. It reaches fingers into you from outside and draws you outward in extension, then allows you to resolve yourself back into a mixture of night and self. All are one in the night: the faces coming don't have stories until the cigarette is lit or the awning selected for rendezvous. We are one, Spike and I, a moving phalanx of two dodging telephone poles as we hunt out safe lodgings until we've had our final fill of information and celebration. As if we were celebrating. Life is a fishhook that turns in space, however, and the celebrations of past days are often funerals, so a grim bracing party might be a dawning, or even just nothing, a continuation. With no deterioration there is amelioration, as this city is a slide of shale into a fetid pond, a steadily collapsing conception of decay. Into the back door of the Cranberry Cafe, a slightly upscale place of new red brick against the crumbling steady exteriors beside it. I balk at first: this is a cop territory, the smell of their urine thick around the poles and doorways. Into a back poker room, the attendant thinguy young cop takes a pause ducker into the door. Bit of cigarette smoke follows the answer, an enticement. We return offer (personally, I am not liking this: cops and dealing with cops is suspect as ordinary deals gone wrong are a walkaway, whereas with cops there is always the twist of adder possibility: arrest) and receive our bid, a Malibu in the parking lot. Buttocks to bumper we wait, Spike with a halfburnt cigarette waved in the air, lit end away from the building writing gesticulations in the sheer expanse of night past our eyes. Minutes later we have our cop, an older guy with smoothed brown hair around the crown of his head, a small belly building. He hands us a bag, but its fresh scent is uncoiling light and sinuous in the air toward us. We pay. Goodnight, gentlemen, in that soft southern accent that says college, politeness and beware: a turning of soft white mouth inside lights up his eyes, his canines stretch toward us. Spike smiles, and we back away. More bright eyes in the night. You can never see them. Arenas open with each alley, stretching past us in a line of conflicting images, shadows colliding before fading degrees of light, the red eyes of cops slanted cynical from the slow slowing cars that roll past. No slow rolling: after something, their wheels pour ahead on a drumbeat, and they are sliding past, cutting the night. Nightsticks for the dawn. Shadows which were soot on the walls fall into limber motion again. We ride. "Ride on, ride on," sings Spike. "Looking for a truck..." he murmurs fumbly. I agree: there ain't much more to do sometimes. So you go on, you move on, you go into the cold night and you sing and drink and smoke against it about it and then keep going, because if in the back of your mind, there is something at the end: if it is art or it is love or it is freedom: if that, then there is life in your moving forward, and not just drudging reaction and frozen-fingered refusal to die on principle. Principle, hell: a line of ideas; life is many days, but are they good days? I just look for something I want to be in a few months, and keep it in mind - something a headmaster once frowned upon, literally, his mouth downturning into a bitter lemon smile when I said I didn't like rules, but I knew what I wanted, and what I wanted not to do. He said I'd learn to like them. I never got sense of it; Spike, who has been to jail, says that sometimes those words have a truth to them which makes you feel like cold concrete sweating in the basement noone goes into, except every six months to throw down strychnine to kill the rats in twitching potency. Carnival House: a massively failed carnival ground left for exploration into which opened a bar, and then a series of underground businesses. Almost anything available there, however absent ascendant antagonism celebrated. The penalties of financial failure the burdens of those who pass, and those who squat and stay in the space created by the ruins become possessors of the night. The area wasn't safe enough for a carnival; now we have a festival. Lights string angular through the place, weird Christmas gig setup. Spike thumbs up at a few. I guess I'm hazy from the blunt some streets back, a quick clutched smoking of the honeydew bud we'd gotten from the pig. Erik has joined us; I turn to see him behind me, grinning a bit at me (realizing I had no idea he was there? realizing I'm too stoned?). Into the carnival. Good cover until we can hit the road, but more good cover for our stressed brains. Spike is way fucked, legally speaked. I'm not so bad off and I trust in luck: perhaps out of all the papers there, they'll lose mine. The carnival: People are passing out drinks of odd sorts, and I infiltrate the bar for a beer or three, bringing back two more unconsciously for Erik and Spike. Reflexive. Arc lights whiten the sky above, in which the dogfights of insects leave trails like northern lights through my vision. Everything is reflex, once you do it enough. Eating, defecation, micturation, conversation, intonation, appreciation, evaluation, fucking. The carnival is a massive reflexive swirl of humans, which wash through buildings and lots and fill the night with their noise and light. Welcome now, in a solitary age of seconds strung together as telephone poles are connected across vast fields and valleys. I brush hair from my face: I like Spike a lot as a friend, a better stoner than a stoner friend. Erik's a stoner friend, the scrawny Viking, and a good guy, but is not Spike. He smokes a mean binger however. Ramble on. Spike has saved me from my share of dangerous days and starchy, disconsolate nights. There are disposable buildings, ugly plated steel fabrications, to clutter the horizon, and reflect the neon and traffic light, and rust archly against the bluing sky of a Saturday evening, but the superstructure of Carnival House stays below ground: an intestinal complication of tunnels and ballrooms, storage areas, bars, garage parking, and video arcades, bathrooms: converted now a milling of gamble-holes and dark corners. The cops don't have to notice, and often don't, until there's a bill missing in a monthly pay. I suppose moles die for that. Amazing the level of humans searching through the grit on the floor for pinprick drops of salted gold. Grit rides our feet down the serrated metal stairs. Clattering of heels, even mine the ever-sneakered. Into a larger room, a gymnasium of conversion: filled with people: unceasing blur of melding colors pulled inside out to bring up faces, and then to vanish again into the gleeful boiling mass, hands and drinks and feet awry in scattered directions of randomness, Spike and I drawing up chests to wander through, Erik having lapsed into the rugged churning morass of people. And it moves on: not blind, but not having an eye, just motion: when on one side there's a fight, or on the other someone vomits, the mass swerves back the exact opposite just as forcefully. Not even noticed, as conversation, seduction, peregrination, prevarication, and perpetuation flogged the motion of the crowd, seduced with their bulging eyes and crotches, their saliva lurching for liquor or flesh, their peristaltic shock waves spreading through their wanting faces, their dope-hungry gleaming gaze probing the night, the crowd. Spike pauses. I recollect turning to speak to him, and then the blunt and beer and heat of the motion seized my head. His face blurred away in a smear toward the lagging corner of my vision, and there was a soaring noise like the roof sucked off in a twister, and then I was reeling in the motion, lost under the glee with dark bile creeping behind my eyes. Another spin, a drink spilling, thrusting out a splash that soaks instantly into stained red carpet. Her face half-skeletal attacks mine; swings into view from below, leering happily, takes me by the mouth. It's the girl with the H name from nights before -- when? mind rolls into bile unconsciousness -- or is it her? Is she aware me? can't even tell, conversation a blur from me, drunken straightforward from her: stagger back to grin realistically, end up with her in concrete- stepped handrail-supported stance in back stairway, my tongue and hers heavy silvery smooth-muscled beasts holding each other in their strength. Hands sliding and shifting; a drill older than my teens, something only refined in adulthood. A massive blur this is. It would be a shame, she is cute, but I am not of the presence to. Leaving tomorrow, no need to leave wreckage of a perhaps in a clutter of destroyed potentials. In the hang of lust, our hands drift apart to come together on the car. Cold metal, buckling under our movements. Her car, tucked in the lee of a corner of cyclone fencing nice a condom with its artificial skein, her warmth grasping me sliding downward a touch stopped, resumed, and I'm on top of her, moving forward with the rhythmic slowness of the night. All of this time has taken; where are we lost? Entering this world of heat, a stretching sash of warm flesh, her body pivoting on it, turning curving against mine. Her mouth opens, hot also. The sigh that runs down my spine and through this weird stinger I have sprouted, into her flesh, the wound widening. Tears in my eyes, a delirious descent of twenty or thirty narrow reflections of the carnival in my sight, shimmering with hallucination. She begins to suck in air faster louder, ...she takes breath with my thrust, she hold it drawn strict into her lungs, fingers rushing down my back. A sigh taken too quickly, a choking intake, her pulling back, pushing carseat in fear. I swing my head down pleasure taking into something new an element of useless fear. Abstraction of vision in a sharp shot of moment as I see squirming in my crotch a footlong maggot, squirming agonizedly, burrowing into her, maybe mewling I can't tell her scream. Not even her: she is gone, but the maggot is there. The rotting heap of the city writhes with its minions. The eyes of living inside, cocaine off the mirror and then the reflection twisting, the carnivorous maggot chewing through all that lives. The piles of trash twitch alive, and curl around the nearby humans like adders striking at the wrist. The corpses of the dead burst; the coffin lids split; maggots roll upon the earth, crawling from the wound- graves of the deceived, killed, buried, and lied after. She is gone; it is over. Am I hallucinating? All I see is maggots, the crawling of decay, the appetite of putrefaction. Choking in my throat: fear or vomit, and then, beneath my skin, I feel them spawning, moving, too near me, chewing me into trash like the rest of the city. A violent cough vivisects. Scream, dash, chaos of angular falling outward of door, gravel roll and recovery, back inside: must find Spike. Must have collapsed in sleep. Across her backseat. She has gone, some hours later. Somewhat sober, still in dangerous hallucinatory sliding swimmingness of reality. She is gone. This was more an impact than a touch, this was more lost than gained. Hide any evidence on self, don't want to hear it from those around me, who might chalk up a mark on the wall somewhere for this exploit. Not really an evidence excepting doubts of reality. Spike? Reality. Must move. Wonder where she went, a stretching of an emotional want into the night, a car door open as if she'd run. But peaceful here. The beast must've been a dream, or a hallucination. Or was this a dream? Whose car is this? Transient, like the haze of memories rising like smoke off the forehead in morning, the break of fever, the loss of recall. Into sanctorum: sudden yearning for Spike, my friend and stoner buddy, beyond the stilted starch uselessness of drunken babylon. Slamming door into the night, where the yearning draws, but instead I find a hollowness and longing. On the freeway above lights rush by, destinations found, links made, connections accomplished. Here I stand with life rushing around me, dust of gravel soaring around my feet. There goes. The emptiness and loneliness rushes in with the force of innumerable such yearnings, rushing from the vacuum of night to me, sucked from void to void, the painful begging of my soul succumbing to the terror crouching compressed in my throat like chancreous resurging alcohol. Charge into the night, scared like the man shouting into the dark and empty room to dispell demons, to build his own fear so that whatever demons await him won't disturb his peace of mind with their ravenous teeth, empty gnarling bellies, and yearning claws -- the gods of emptiness hover above, into the castle, into the carnival, to find Spike. Through scuffing gravel, desperate eyes: Spike, Spike, Spike. Hanging pause for breath, backward feeling for rail like drunkard. Wait for silence, continuous roar. Oh fading throughout me like this up straight to wait. Fixed wristlock on the railing. Darkness can't be seen here, foreseen. I am wasted am I so? in the breath of darkness on the skirts of this place. Falling faces inside. Step, fall: face in papercup, stench of stale tobacco and wet paper, latex. Pull back, up, shake hair and move slowly into center of this mess. Too many people stagger upfront sweaty hair in my face, head against my forehead. God, a drunken apology. Eyes blink signal move. Did that just happen? A vomiting of narrative. A loss of. Whorls of sunlight splintered are antlike in my eyes. Stinging stare away from light, move onward while camera eclipses and swells like some cheap artschool film. Lurch, stomach. Falling slops of spew into a flowing industrial trashcan, grey beauty of stolidity against my onslaught. Tirade of like words. On top of beer cans crushed and torn ties, broken cummerbunds, condoms split like gunfired balloons. Food rotting in there too, now there's some digestive juice. Fucking threw everything out. Back to the vortex: Spike locator. Interlocutor. Can't see a thing, moving onward. Would be in deep shit if it weren't for people falling against me falling against them. Jerkstop coordination, thoughts. Fad argyle against my cheek, brush past the jacket with my hand down, could have gotten his wallet. Laughter. Phones hang from the ceiling in this odd room, swinging over my head, pendulae or pendulums? Hate latin, people dance in clothing with reflective tin cloth as part of it, big shiny bands around their guts. Full guts. Laughter. Stumble down hall past tables of gambling, through back room full of some goods in crates, over couples fucking, one fading whinnying moaning scream muffled by pressure. Don't fall down that way man. Walking straight across slabs of stamped metal. Steam from somewhere, fading of the night into the dark abstraction of morning. Head still damage. Back into the main area, must find Spike. Loaded like a freight train. Sweetened breath of vomited wine. In an alley of hamburger wrappers, cigarette packets, plastic lapel flowers, swinging Christmas tree air fresheners, toilet paper, gold teeth and a plastic raincoat torn on the ground. Insurgent fear demanding flight. So much for the cavalry. The lot edged with cars spinning around, searing the night with the noise of their burning tires, swinging into each other with ferocious jarring collisions. Thumping of tires over barriers, maybe bodies. Who knows? Gunfire also from above, but scattered with quick giggly noises as if above taken-in breath from the white face of fear. Woman pushing past my face, eyes silver glass above grey smears of dust on her face. Breath is wet heavy rot of the streets soaked in gin, cheap oily vomiting waves. Must awaken, away. A side of the inside building collapsing in dustflow of cheap plasterboard. Dance music pressing my skull together, insistent beat entirely linear. Our silence is so often from fear; we learn from the confessions of others. Giddy woman's laughter. Bodies shrinking against each other into the tainted darkness (edged rancid with colored glow). Exhaustion hold. Cough. On through the beating pulse, mechanical thrust knocking over heartbeats all-ahead on expediency. Into the bar, down in a corner table under red neon seamstitch of black and white room. A police car. Withdraw cigarette, limp crumpled. Smoke hesitantly, use time. Soberify. Must have been drinking more, smell like six types of liquor. Cough. "S'nomore 'bout th'life? S'getting it goo n mhhnth." "Mack'n gone? Ssshea beh." "Guvmint fall'n. Gunna d' hod. Killa th' bnhh mmn, duth inna thnth. Hunth." "Mos' bood gunthnth. Mockva munthuth." "Gunna ahe's'snathmmnh." "Gunna." "D'th' mn th rhtht e nnthnth uh hh a'm'bl." "Munna guth." So the police are looking for a dark haired drunk man. Several thousand here: there he goes. Wonder where Spike went, stomach turning over uneasy again. Vertiginous outbreak, man. More intoxicants not a good idea, but jonesing hard. The drunk worn off anyway. The drunk run off anyway. From the face of reality: ...and the difference is? No difference engines here; a large disposable blur. And I? In this crowd, I - a syllable or an organ, perhaps the latter selling in Vegas. Fake fruit display on bar. Fruit flies: real. Mango'll do, will fit. I eat carefully in the dark. A woman at the next table laughs, perhaps pointing. Ignore. Dark silence waits in the corners of the room. The ends of the hall. A thousand paper napkins pass, carefully wadded and tossed an empty booth over. The pit shines in the redshaded light. Pocketknife a beautiful object: carving the pit, carefully, using the thick shell for my work. Done: the pipe. Feeling more clearheaded, still lost. Sobriety isn't the cure. Neither is this, but sustenance. Loading half a bud of American Sigma I kept on me: dry, potent pot, sweet-tasting and green. Taste was just that, sweet. Light hit at first, rising in waves through the chest and head until suddenly the earth is a very faraway place. Also stores well, hence the backup bag. Loading a bud is breaking it in half, putting half carefully in dish of pit pipe. Smokes a little rough, but good traveling device. I take hard fast hits, sucking tightly into my lungs. Clears my head. Location of Spike has suddenly become important. Speaking curt sentences sans articles like a cheap paper detective. Better start carrying or I might get rubbed out. Haha. Searching the arcade, searching the other drink area, a more practical establishment consisting of a vending machine loaded with Night Train, Thunderbird, King Kobra, and a few I'd thought were banned. Probably not: just banished. Thrown away. We throw it all away if we can't hold it, if we can't hold on to it. Baboons shrieking shit-throwing at the great cat, its eyes glowing somnolent, malevolent in their darkness. Context of infinity. Some tables scattered around, bracelets of their iron legs caught in the careless dance of trampled dead. Leering face drawn over original manufacturer's logo; now beyond loyalty of that sort. Looking for a drunken darkhaired man? Cops? Or were they looking for sunken dark stairs to bunk? Halfasleep to the left; rouse, shake, grin, sort of leer. Mug thickly at this concept. Spike moves in faster than slow motion and follows me from the place, thinning in the morning light as we walk down the broad red carpet, our feet flicking flattened paper cups and torn lottery tickets. There is enough blue in the morning to light as way as we go. Spike pulls out into the bluebacked vein of a street, and tires peel down flat hot lane. &null. (change of balance muffle rotate lost dark tea-smelling colliding of dark angulars, dark blue and dark dark going through some light area female talking drifting haze of winter shadows an open window the breeze beyond it picks cloth and tall grass, whipping intricate rhythms drift never rotate sudden-falling inspection). &&resume. Footsore in the back seat, rising with the stiffened consciousness of ending sleep. Spike: where are we going? "Been on the road since midnight," is all he says. All he'll say. Ah, right to the town of justice. A burnt blunt rests a severed finger in the ashtray. How we stay up all night. I once talked to a trucker who told me about been told with condolences of factory delays, made to wait, and been told that his cargo still had a pressing destination, time schedule notwithstanding. At a truckstop they have solutions, and he moved on with the liquid thrust of methamphetamine, to return to his home site and have to inject his bladder full of clean urine to pass the next day's drug test. He used a turkey baster; the nonuncommon resort of the desperate. In the absence of a presence, the grasping forces of evolution take charge: whatever means needed. Whatever needs mediated. Something of that form. Never understood government, or logic: far too many terms with hard angles to them, uncompromising pre-contradictions. Desperation follows us on this road. It rolls behind us, dodging the broken yellow lines. The desperation of a city collapsing like an overburdened landfill, shifting weights of flattened paper, rotting food (mostly food processed uniform, taking the texture of taste to an icon), broken toys, smashed cameras, urine-soaked newspapers (colors colliding in a staining melange), golf videos, promotional pamphlets for politics and luxury cars, the oracular works of Gideon, shattered punk records and umbrellas flippantly pulled into inversion, their spiny vanes sticking incongruous over torn cloth. If trash doesn't collapse over the streets, flooding them: the last garbage collector's strike left mounds of bagged trash rotting in its enclosures reaching to second story windows. The same day a Papal Bull came out blaming the use of condoms for the excessive trash; the strike was settled two days later with the use of force, the government opening fire on the trash and igniting blazes of flatulent decay which covered the city in its choking wrath of smoke, driving the garbagemen and everyone else back to work where at least the airconditioners filtered the worst of it. This is a city with assiduous dedication to nonpermanence: everything is used and deployed strategically half-over the rim of a public trashcan, as if condom, with the grease-smeared "Keep Our City Beautiful" placard half-removed by bored teenagers with can openers. Condemned signs fill the windows. We had hit open road: miles of grey-black strolling road under the kneading grey clouds of future horizons. A glass company truck with its infracted rack of mirrors passes us, making us pass it by in reflection, its driver oblivious. With Morgue: Morgue the demented skier, a collector of fine objects normally called trash, gaudy lights, cheap mirrors, Jesus figurines and Elvis statuettes. His apartment was visible for miles because of the unique setup he had of Christmas lights, mirrors, and pinwheels and fans. Lights flickered and pinwheels spun, throwing images through the mirrors around the room and out the window. The array was so confusing and disorienting that people would come to stare, sitting bug-eyed on the pavement looking up at his window. Most of these were normals, not even stoners. Inside we smoked with impunity as the room was set up in such chaos only to reveal movement and not the specifics of said movement. The flinging of my arm changed from a trajectory upward to a shower of greens spiralling out of the left corner of the pane, ricochetting from the ceiling mirrors, and finally dissipating in a burst of fractured color in the center of the window. And still they watched. One night his room caught aflame and vanished in a swirling conflagration that defied the cheap silver beauty of his trash collage: a puff of black smoke squirted from the rear of the building, with a final grunt as the generator bolted on to power the phones to call 911. Morgue lived in near- poverty, spending his money on dope, and often found himself renting from landlords glad for the extra income over the tax shelter they'd built out of previously-condemned buildings. Like pre-owned toilets: no matter how you euphemize, trash is trash. We found him later somewhere on route 66, living amidst the glory of classic American dreams. His place was a mobile home with fake red brick side sitting alone in a field of tall bleached grass and scattered rusting ribs of equipment. His mattress took up a corner, leaving stark fake-wood floor stretching to the centerpiece, a steam engine mockup of sorts, a small-scale version of one of the permanent pumps that carcass the Texas countryside: a raven dipping its beak into the black well of oil. Character- istic rust and lichen had been removed, leaving a faded but identifiable red, flat and broad in its tone and years. "This was once an operational pump, on a small scale," Morgue (Morgan is his real name, but after one of his hypotheses led him to grow indica using seven fluorescent lights and a microwave dish he produced pot he named after himself, called Morgue, which gave one the feeling of utter detachment that being dead on a pull-out slab must provide) said, but broke his lips into a smile and explained his conversion. The pull of the pump pendulum drew air past a combustion chamber, dragging thick pot smoke through a chamber of heated water (heat provided by an adapted coffee maker) and then through a stack filter of iced water, chilled by the innards of a dorm-room fridge of his from past years wrapped around the pressure cooker casing that was this final stage. Carefully taped and sealed to this end of the machine was a vacuum attachment with added foam rubber, to fit around the mouth and nose. Nose? "That's the beauty of this one," Morgue exclaimed gleefully, his red eyes opening brightly under his thick watershed of hair. "It takes the smoke you exhale back through this alternate pipe here -- " (pointing) " -- separated by weight, as relative temperature allows, and runs it through a condenser, which inserts it again here, distilling whatever THC remains into fortifying smoke." Try it. Insurgent lust. Spike played point and took the first hit, a seeping weight of warmth that filled his lungs and sat him down hard. Morgue grinned at him, warningly. "Shoulda told you: it burns as fast as you drag, and the smoke's so purified that you don't even fill the hit much. You just burnt this whole bowl," he grinned over the rim at Spike, holding up a thimble full of ash leeched white by the potent fire of the draw. "That was some of my Alaskan, as well." Spike grimaced defiantly in return, and blew out the pressure of smoke he had been holding tight-casked in his lungs. "I's one stoned motherfucker," he said, and then remained silent for the rest of the evening, lost in the rotations of his own mind around that blast of cannabinoid. My hit brought me into an opened world, where I could see reflected around me my skull and the fissures that lined my brain. Impressionable instantaneous bonding. Morgue reloaded his bong while I attempted to compliment it: "Very much a significant presence; strong affect and assertion; overall, a command performance." Cementing impact of fast falling intoxication, spurious reality ascended, sudden rush of full stimulus: the scary combination of a healthy abstraction (distance enough to consider the subject) and an unfolding of layers of reality. The red means the eyes are open; or am I just falling into ludicrous pot-worship, when in fact it is only an excuse to see without taking the onus on oneself to prove the necessity of doing so? "A fine year," I concluded. That was Morgue's narrow warm home, a strip of wood and aluminum reminding of a wafer cookie somehow lost on a flat pounded grass plain. Coming away from it it seemed as if that strip and not I were moving away turning into the desert. I reflect as I read the massive file now on my personal rig; in terseness, a system not human although grammatically precise (although not correct: its method of using prepositions as conduit sometimes falls into grammatical, sometimes does not - but always almost makes sense). Within this a protocol is described, a parasitic nature which assembles itself within other protocols. Similar to my technique, an offhand and difficult method but an effective one along unsuspecting networks. What made theirs better: the paper described a system of network rather than a method of intrusion, a way of connecting machines invisibly to the world, and, had it not been for hacker error, to me. Penicillin blues. I have to put the reading down after some time to assimilate the technical details gleaned, but more importantly, the impact: how had I thought I had run so smoothly through the net, when with this there were others, or the potential for others, to be invisible, omniscient, watchful? Damn. On the road similarly, towns and land twining behind us as we kept speed at subdued scream down the isolated pavement, a part of thousands of miles laid by lonely hands through country and mountain and desolate territory. Desolate is of course always a contrast, and we had just left the large city of plastic. There are always cities of plastic, some erected every day. We evade most, Spike and I, because our lust for plastic converts into need for dope. It's non-addicting, but anything is addicting if it stops the hole in the floodwall: the bloodwarm water ceases to pour out into the cold abyss, the hunger more precisely which is always there to weaken you, to break your will, to make you bow to it and the fear it holds rank over your head. Pink Knight used to have mounted on his computer monitor the motto of forward motion: Fear is the mindkiller. He was taken on a raid, turned in by a young sycophant facing a small jail stiffness for his part in some escapade, and who having the goods on PK found very little reason not to turn state's evidence. And so an incredibly common story iterates again: hackers are a closed community for a reason, blocking out the efforts of such types. In an age of so many causes, so many are overturned by expedients. Hackers have a uniting ethic which locks them to a common cause, an ideal of how to use machines. I can't blame them for being a somewhat closed society. More road and I'm driving now. As night washes away into dawn and daylight, the road goes from slick black to sprawling worn grey, slick in parts where the smooth whizzing tires tread it down daily. Copside road with a car pulled over, belly of cop moving at the window where some other life awaits a gutpunch. The whole crowd has slowed; cars now trot in slow motion in comparison to our former speed. What gives: living in fear, an accrued sense of learned helplessness. It comes when you're sitting with your back straight in the air, hands over your head, while men in blue with slick black boots circle you and talk of trivialities, holding the power higher than the nightstick. Spike still has a jaw scar from a cop incident, I believe a class ring caught in the impact. Miles are like fingers counted over again in a jail cell, the five fingers being the five cuts of light dropped by the bars of small window to the floor, five feet square on a side, five years in a felony. Five states in the crossing, lucky for a vehicle that sort of runs. We get oil into it not in the nick of but definitely on the hot side of time in Las Vegas, and move on. Roadwearing down the eyes, blunted by reflection and time, iteration again of the same patterns. Stop briefly to hack and find our records are the same, the networks seem the same. Someday this will have to grow; too much being said, or perhaps too little - only a fraction of the net seems to be motion, the rest is a swelling before motion, a swirling of data and ideas. Suddenly the signal is traced among them, and then there is a language, a network - perhaps through one of these networks or languages lies expansion. Road expansive, curving through the heat to the horizon. However far you go there is still road. Above the striated earth and broiling redness of sand is a sky which reaches interminable to form the second half of the world, the greatest free space imaginable crouched over our narrow and flattened perspective. Who are _we_: All of us. There's none of that anymore, says a man worn like rainblotted newspaper, shaking a knotted finger in my head, there's no all of us. There's us, and them. The Russians aren't coming, Doctor: but it's still us and them. Who's them? Anyone not us right now -- anything more is too big a thought. Our car a capsule. Swallowed by darkness over road. Heavy surging in my brows signals the ending of my shift driving. Spike and I have a friendly arrangement: I drive until I'm tired, and then he takes over, and the cycle continues. We don't question because we trust the other to be honest: we're both going to the same place, we have been friends for years. Once Spike, Me, Amorphine and Gonzaga took to the road, heading to a nearby town for Gonzaga (an imported citizen; I have no idea what his real name is, but he communicates a few words with exceptional pronunciation and clarity, leading me to value his communication over that of most other acquaintances, even though a detailed one hour conversation might take only a dozen words and twice as many gestures from him) to lie low for a night so that his ex-girlfriend could spend her furlough time without having to "ram his nose through his ass so he has a clitoris" as she had threatened drunkenly in a sports bar called The Punched Ticket (Jeanine is really nice, overall, but occasionally becomes sauced on Cisco clones and uses her skills as a aikido trainer to unleash her angst. She once was about to do the above to my nose but I was able to deter her with a procrastinatory explanation of the derivation of the word assassin, from the Arabic, for Hashish) the night before. Amorphine lounges in chairs, slouches on sofas, collapses on car seats, and hunches in bars. I've known him for ten years, and I've never seen him the same. Amorphine and I made acquaintance in a small restaurant in Mississippi called The Checkered Dog. Most restaurants useful for meeting people are a definite article, an adjective, and a noun in name. Someday I'll have a bar named The Definite Article. The future, prepositionally speaking. All of which is a split infinity with the present moment, something I can't focus upon quite yet, not unlike the concept of death. Me dying: Amorphine and I met on a cold day, not unlike a vacant drooling sky to die underneath. When I was young I thought I'd die by battle; Amorphine thought the same. He would eventually die being shot to death by federal agents confiscating computer equipment, chestholding a Braun toaster he had saved two weeks' wages to buy, which contained a microchip, excusing his death in the line of duty in itself. Condemned in newspapers. For the next two years, he would periodically appear at local sales, cafe openings, used-car lots, hangings, elections and debutante balls. Once I saw him in the background for a late-night advertisement for the Nixon box set, featuring sixteen CD's with remastered and annotated recordings of the Watergate tapes, for $129.95, the original price of the dictaphone machine most of the phone calls debated during the trial were recorded on. Amorphine gave a sad wave, and faded behind his thick sunglasses as the voice overwhelmed even the physical space in the picture with its incessant advertising pledge. At The Checkered Dog, Amorphine and I consumed two hamburgers and six beers, and I learned from four words of his that his name had come from a time six years ago when he had rejected all claims of physical existence and had starved himself for nine days, passing out at the end and having to be revived with morphine leftover from a GI shipment to his country during the second world war. In the end, he would die at age 27, similarly injected with morphine that failed to revive him. The third time: once as a child of six, he had been injured falling from a tree, and morphine had enabled his broken body to repair itself in isolation from pain or pleasure, only the numb delight of absence. As we drove, I thought often of The Checkered Dog and Amorphine, who seemed to be limp and porous tissue, unconnected disconnected but still grasping the wheel firmly as if it mattered. Shrug. We took six hours shifts each, and those became failures as half the time we fell asleep on our shifts, and the rest of the time we were just getting into interesting thoughts as drivers when we had to retire to the back of the van. The method Spike and I use works much better. Spike lies eyes turned down in the back seat, indestructible auto industry fake cloth feeling synthetic beneath him. On occasion he snores. I snore alongside him, grateful for the company of sound on this desolate drive. Empathy to the subsuming joy of sleep. Going the long, awkward, circuitous route instead of out the front door; back door manners may get a bad rap, but the endurance of continuity beats some honor points anyday. The road here is grey, older semi- asphalt, with mid-sized pine trees venturing occasional stabs at the sky. As if thrusting thumbs at an unkempt god: Spike jars this out of me stirring in his sleep to mumble. "Burr...?" "Uh huh. What up old man." "Thinking about itches. When it itches, you scratch." "Because otherwise it drives you mad: too much stimulus." "No, I figure it evolved in us. It was part dream. Because itching brought blood to the skin, it was useful against most causes of itch. An evolutionary mistake." "Like intelligence." "I haven't gotten there yet." Rolls over, falls back asleep. Warmth of sleeping people. I feel most like an animal when I walk into a room full of people asleep, and feel my breathing slow to their rate as I sense -- not as much smell or feel -- the bodies in the dark, turning in their disconnected dreams of life. More road. When I was young I visualized the car grille as eating the road, consuming enticing stripes of divider alongside pure asphalt, consuming it all as we rushed along, the fragmented patching of the roadsurface rushing up at us in smearing collisions of light. Now we eat our way through fast food and tearing cheap roadmaps, batteries for our flashlights, cigarettes, and gasoline. Behind us the road settles its detritus of paper shreds, beer bottles, broken rust-fragments of cars, condom wrappers and burnt flares. Now we eat our way through countryside left unnamed by the map, a neurotic compulsion in itself to name everything: even the index is labeled as such at the top and bottom of each column. Our red vein rides through the ridges of several states, passes the blocked dots of great cities, detours down the fragile outlines of sideroute freeways, and pours us into the sheaf of valley where Loquate, TN, makes its resting warm the hills. Where once nothing but Appalachian subsistence indolents wandered, now a city springs from a mall and a gas station left by passing tourists. The sign reads POP: 24,022 but we know there are several thousand more, because Loquate lives two lives: a legitimate economy and the leftover overflow from the attempt some decades ago to make it an Atlantic City for valley America, legalizing gambling, prostitution, and leaving an easy regulation on drug use. The experiment was so successful that within a year the city was wealthier than the third world, the local government had capitulated, and the Mafia was buying up local libraries as tax shelters. The city revolted, but the new economy threw it back: and, illegal, continued to prosper. This makes Loquate ideal for hiding out on one's way farther into the countryside, but both Spike and I wanted time to rest, to recover for our journey, but as importantly to recover from the despair which crouched like the hallucinatory cloud of a black widow spider on the past horizon. Loquate is not ideal for habituation, however, because of the virulent local economy and the environment it creates. Coming into the city, we bound over a soft swelling hill populated at top with a gas station selling "Gas line" and a small store with a sign labeled with a blue squid, marked "Pes ados." Neither are open, both secure places in the universe with their dingy neon. Crackling probably under the drawing brows of a storm. Spike pulls off of the broad road down a gravel path to a 7-11 which must exist without business, far from any path or combination of roads I can read except for the narrow grey dusty stretch we have just pulled in through. The sign flickers its bright broad colors over us as we extend each of our nervous and tense limbs in an approximation of stretching. An itching in the calf muscles, a thick condensation in the gut. We go to the door, but the inside is dark, but Spike pushes the door regardless, drawing from some internal sureness I can't reach. The windows are darkened with grime and provide cover, but it is still obscure inside, lit only by a few shaky fluorescent tubes. Waist-high rows divide the small space of linoleum. Behind the desk two feet keep watch, supported by a head averted to a television, its abstract black and white showing a domestic argument, a tortured rehash of poignantly fake lines. Soap operas are like hearing one side of a drunken phone conversation. "I must leave town, I must: He's dead!" shrieks a bodied voice, a full womanhood blonde in drawn-faced desperation. His eyes catch ours without any sense of loss in his inattention to the movement; the noise fills the air, keeps the store from domination by the crepitant hum of the fluorescents. He is young and stark-faced, and hands us ZigZags for a buck fifty, a weathered bill (under fingers of ages, ours and his, his and ours, yours) and points to the bathroom in the rear. We go through the glassbead curtain and a throat-voice punches through the haze of our travel: "And look who is joining us:" Long, thick beard and glasses, also thick. Jerry? Above a cigar his thick reddened eyes track us, beadily without greed or malice. A belly of some proportion, but well-carried (fat doesn't bother me until it shows signs of desperation, the eating in order to generate stable ground to walk upon, to be too big to be displaced) and tucked into a thick-cut chest. "How are you?" he speaks at us, allowing his cigar to roll to the edge of his mouth and lock there. A vagary of memory: Buffalo Bill, our cohort from the wild mountains of Southern California where he for years maintained a mushroom farm that must have been the envy of every psychoactive weapons division in the world. Strains of psychoactive mushrooms pushed the floor of his house upward, growing steadily in their thousand and one Mason jars in the darkness. Bill loved to barbecue brain cells, and we had joined him for several exploits, including the one in which he was named. Our love of jargon, names. To control the world: to rename it without a care for the original, an abrupt imposition of self. May my last name stand for some kind of potent weed. A folding card table supports three chairs and two other individuals, an exact clone of the man behind the desk out front, and a scrawnier, younger version of either of them with his hand on his hip, as if he were a gunfighter. "Howdy," Spike says, striding ahead of me to shake Bill's hand, and introduce himself to the two, named Alex and Stanford. They nod me in as well, and I pull up a milkcrate to sit to the lee side of the refrigerator. Spike takes a seat across from me and I meet his eyes. We break out the bag of the chronic. Luscious, steamy bud from East of Eden -- somewhere to the east of us, a massive underground facility housed in the basement of an IRS tax records facility, where an enterprising and bored employee had started growing dope twelve years ago, where now a steady flow of volunteers kept his salary augmented for a brief cut of the torrent of cash. Expensive, but through a contact near to the source and proud of it: a seventeen-year-old playwright, left bored in his parents' house between days of numbing school to write brutally nihilistic plays about characters in high schools named after colors or letters, who, in the many volumes (contiguous) of his plays played out every permutation of petty crisis of worthlessness that could be imagined, coming near the realization of pointlessness in its purity frequently, but always continuing their quest for a plot in near tears of frustration. Each night of meditation or writing in his black room lined with reflectors and strobe lights, he would smoke fat bowls of this thick, treacle-knotted bud and launch his brain far into the void, where it would hover and produce the apt descriptions of hopelessness he felt on life. Even his players smoked thick, rich, vicious bud. A grim character, he added a comment as we took the bag away: "You all remind me of my dead uncle" (pointing to Spike) "and the character (Y12) I turned him into" (pointing to me) "who (AB-) eventually took an overdose of oven cleaner in desperation, and died vomiting blood at a school play" (pointing at ground) "not unlike my real uncle (2), who killed himself drinking." Smiled. We smiled smoking blunt nuggets stuffed into our portable bong, a small homemade created from a Magic Mushroom air freshener, an odd idea of clean breathing that injected scent into the air around it, a small plastic mushroom with incongruous, frivolous polka dots to hold against the stench of the world, feeding its sweetness not even honest enough for decay. A faint smell like the sweet bitterness of infection hanging in the tainted air when removed, a plastic carcass to illuminate the trash. The hanging basket of the bowl mars the purple surface of the shroom. Our pull carb comes from the plastic action of a cheap cap gun. It smokes well but fast. Alex or his brother becomes silent, withdrawn, quickly as the smoke hit him from what was not intended to be the monster hit it was. Some people get silent: for some pot is a cutoff from the world, the line dropping dead for a few hours. With the sudden displacement of reality, almost anything can happen. You can see terror and snap out of it clutching your feet up from the floor, locked in some toilet somewhere, terrified of the world and the intricate scenarios that crawl through the cracks of the bathroom tiles to illuminate the skeletal fear of the overwhelmed organism. Sometimes it's the bubbling exuberance of nothingness, but that echoes hollow, popping like champagne bubbles against plastic glass (her name lost in the concavity exploding). For some dope is a mediator. There is no relative - it hits you all the same, but what you're doing at the time forces it through its twists and turns. For me pot is relaxation with a motive. Numbness from hours of travel clutches me like a stomach spasm during drinking sickness. I don't want a large hit, slow inhaling this one...fade to negative space, a jarring withdrawal into the abstracted. Are we all artifacts? Exhale. Spike again. Fast hits, two, and then passing the smoking chalice to Stanford. Across the table, Buffalo Bill passes me a bag of Cheetos. "Thank you," I say, "Is this your establishment?" Interruption for Stanford to pass the bong to Buffalo Bill. I pass the bag to Alex. Buffalo Bill takes a large hit. I take the bong, and Alex passes the bag to Spike. Spike eats complacently. I inhale quickly, tasting ash, and dust out the bowl, filling it with an oversize bud. I prod it one more time into the base of the bowl, and pass it to Alex. Stanford has the bag; "We all are partners in this, Dad and Alex and Van and I." His red eyes smile at me. Alex's hit drifts past my face, dispersing on its way elsewhere. He passes the bong to Spike. He looks at me. The bag of Cheetos is with me, passed by Buffalo Bill. "Is anyone up for another hit?" Spike asks, but we are all zoned, no-one replying. Again, Spike. One of the things I dislike about the modern novel is the detached amusement. Things are funny, self-conscious, but gone is the dedication to character I've found in some older, better novels: the negative space outlines a vague human, wary of emotional being, scratchy as if carved from the static on a detuned television. But his name (Q. Public John) and life are carnival cutouts, painted from oxymoron, contradiction and pun, and give us some sense as readers of the work of a self-recombining intricacy, existing as lace did hundreds of years ago, craftsmanship for appreciation, decoration. Cyclic redundancy test from birth to decay to chaos in aftermath. Each one of these countries is an egg dropping from an ovary, blooming in luteal glory and then falling free, leaving the swollen launch site to vanish back into the fruit-shaped organ. Each has its empire, which flourishes, explodes, and dies, leaving a nation of scar tissue. Dislikes are likes in the end; in the end, all is paradox. Arf - I'm zoned. Where? So is everyone else. No relative effect with marijuana, the great equalizer. Spike is staring at his cards, probably hallucinating. Would like to be in his mind, sometimes. Awe to respect to friendship. Time to go rig. I picked up a cellular unit some time ago, and now invoke this through a local gateway, the only way to guarantee no tracing - the packetized nature of this protocol and the intricacy of gateway hardware neutralizes the threat of trace in under about fifteen minutes. That's all I want online, anyway: the car trip having allowed me the construction of a program to speak this language, the immersion of protocol within protocol. Hacking stoned enables me to subvert the outside world and leave it there: I'm more efficient, as I get closer to the actual machines and ideas I'm working with by subtracting all else. Putting the navigation into reflex, getting my thoughts closer to the computer. Although it's there. My friends used to always kid me about NWI, but we'd always be netting under the influence. Searching for something, wading through epochs of digital signal, aeons of digital noise. Others alongside but not with us - the hunt for something, the feeling that in all of the worlds of network there, something has been missed - that it is a matter of screwing up the digital eyeball and coming closer, and one will find within the morass a human nervous system of resonant meaning to a living organism. But our fields of data are our graveyards; it is all there for anyone to look, much as I search my memories of childhood for clues to what I am now, to who I've become. Or was destined to become - not that, but that beyond our control could as well be destined, or that in the past -the event is the value. And now I search in repetition, probing among the interlocking minions of network subroutes, searching for what in all of that traffic is disguised, has more to tell than its subordinate function. Starting at the point of entry (discovery), I find linked systems and explore, but that is decoy - I soon learn that thinking physically or topographically fails, as this layout is based upon some structure defined by the structure of the protocol building it - not crammed into any predefinition, it instead defines itself among those things defined. The protocol makes more sense to me after fifteen minutes: based upon a protocol for maintaining accurate chronological data on machines, it enables a routine connection to be made for this transfer - into which it is fairly easy to envelop another voice, the voice of the protocol I'd just finished teaching my rig to talk. Testing effective, successful. Onward into the void: and after several probes, I find a connection, finally. A moment of pause, as if I didn't believe it - and then packing up, returning to the group. More time to digest this inhuman thing. Back to the table. How long have I been zoned? No way to tell but this means I'm rather high. Well, the orgies should start any minute now: I saw reefer madness. Doubtless the beast is behind it all. Buffalo Bill Spike Alex have broken out cards; Stanford and I are outside the circle, obviously too stoned to operate. Almost paranoia, and then an uncaring, knowing that Buffalo Bill the older stoner would not care, would be safe to be around. Amazing the trust that echoes even in these ultraviolet sessions of unreality. Odd place for a stoner shack. The shadows are inside the door before I've even seen them. There is a crack sharp hard and Bill's terrified face flashes blank before me, hitting the table which collapses. Shadows flash across the light, into the darkness, Spike looking vulnerable paranoid scared with his hands raised as brackets above his shoulder. Passing shots in the night. Vanishing shadows with the tearing of the wind of an engine starting, a car peeling away. Buffalo Bill's wideyed face launches into my eyes; I close them and rub them in sublimated understanding mocking me as impotent fear, Alex and Stanford staring numbly. Blood has gathered under Buffalo Bill, too fast to be anything good. No grief as of yet, but chest withdrawing as if approaching. His hand, extended, must have brushed my lap: two aces (black), a pair of eights, and a red-eyed joker stare at me from my left thigh. The balcony is blanched with the weak light of dawn. Alex Stanford are inside making police statements; Spike and I have assumed the role of friends and are outside of a roomful of state cops jawing questions at Bill's survivors. Below his body may lie outlined or perhaps tenting a sheet taken away. Goodnight friend. As a final precaution we had reached into the pocket of Bill's overalls and snagged his bag preciously, hiding it in basement tube joints of pipes and conduits leading to nowhere, forming their own interlocking maze for rats to race and stoners to stash. Moments of silence and counted breathing. Unneeded we march down stairs and out the door. Alex joins us. Numbness like the way the chill of the night hits you: a stiffening uselessness from the waist upwards. Stoically Spike removes the battered faucet he had snagged from the junk out back from his jacket as I slide a patch of screen ripped from spare screen in the same area from beneath my shirt. I then hand him my cup of water, which he pours into the U-bend of the pipe, then sealing the connection end of the faucet with screen. This comes from the kitchen sink of a rather nice kitchen and has a wide bent to it like a socket wrench. I hand a chip of American Thai (smooth, muscular) bud which he slides into the depression of screen. Alex bends to it, and a smell like some odd, beautifully burned earth rises into the night. Spike and I take hits next, our bong behaving beautifully. I can't tell if the stars are flashing, or if they're just there. Sometime later we reappear inside. I can't remember how much time. The cops are gone: wide open room. What do you wanna bet that was a waste? Stanford's eyes cast at us. Alex stoic grimly proposing sleep. Not a bad idea; Spike and I explain our situation briefly to a few flat whistles, and leave with our best wishes burnt on our tongues. Bill's eyes flutter behind my lids. His cold hand rests on my lap. Christ. No matter how many bits or bytes flow past my eyes, they can never equal feeling Bill's there. I resolve never to mistake a human for machine again, no matter how easy the inverse is. I used to think everything ended in paradox. I now know to know things as inverses, as those are their ends. The rattling of the unwanted sip of coke in the aluminum echo chamber of the can, a ticking like some wearingdown machine. Emptiness and abandon await the hollow. I feel the hollow. We dodge a rotting cow carcass, and pass through two intersections of unmarked dirt roads, and then turn back into the city. Lights line a path of approach, their flashing multitude of color spreading like a wound into the breadth of the city. Like angels, like holy. A breath taken in fast. The lights blink like a pond stilled with bacteria: a sheet of silence. Sagging yellow lights pass overhead. We rush in on skeins of air, the comforting cruising sound flashing in my ears. Into the void of the valley filled with night, and then over a hill, cresting it with morning, the refracted burnglow stinging our eyes as it is caught in the dirt attached careless to our windshield. Past a hill, two cacti, some scattered farmhouses under a skyscraper, complementary dead-end turns, a grove of pine trees, cold acres of wheat, a tanker casting its shadow alone in a spread of sand, banana trees shading an artichoke farm, six maguey plants near an aluminum trailer, and mesquite interspersed throughout the rocky flatland. Along more road: absolutely flat, laid on wet on the flat soft and deep-packed sand, occasional basket of a compact tumbleweed. A field of poppies. And then the shoulder turns to gravel, and we are cruising on the bed of a dense loam of crushed rock. Through one more canted bend through rock: spines on the rockface from the intruding needles of the engineers, their injections placing the shock-resounding blasts deep in the pink softness of rock. Rusted cage of a lowbuilt car. And then angular geometries of rising electroneurotic signs, twitching out their messages in the unhurried instancy of electric current. More allies between loave-boxes of stores, their fragile hollowness exploited by the contrast of light filling their guts. Cars matte in the dark, occasional vein of fire in a passing reflection along a door, or maybe a blotting blur of it as the door opens, a man talking across his tympanic roof. A billboard swings into view, with an anonymous black font printed fixedly on the white background, an icon of vertical jail bars in the lower right corner. Spike catches me with his crosscut glance in the aerial box of the car as we swoon into the valley. This is Meekin. The air holds thickly together, a thin mat of solidification and purulence hanging its drenched mantle over the refractive brightness of the signs and the stolid somnolence of the grey-stark buildings. There is a drawn-out sweet smoke industrial smell, the wheedling sinister whisper of the fumes encoded in air surfeited with smudge. Down a hill of parked cars, the roofs gaining fragments of a moon as we ascend. Beyond the rim of hills that defines this valley the close-glowing palette of clouds is sucked into the fecund earth. What we find in the valley is singularly beautiful: a local netlink, with low usage, oddly so for a town the size of the one ahead. However, no complaints, especially when the padlock is the only security method discovered locally. A quick rig links me with full bandwidth, and after sharing a quickie smoke of some Mexican Coronita green (rolled in paper with "It's a Boy" in blue letters on it) with Spike, I invoke whatever demons await on the net. Contact is almost immediate, as if they knew a frequency we would meet on by hand of Fate the defunct. The site looks local, from the speed, but that is highly doubtful (I remember that time requests are prioritized networking, from some class some days ago, my last contact with the outside world) and the setup looks too extravagantly competent to be from this area of hingelocked back doors and decaying superstructures. Into the abyss: a divergent twisting series of connections, a penetration into a self-forming structure that from every angle resembles itself, but then expands to twist inside, and portray itself in the inverse perspective. Making hacking it difficult: necessary to think like it. Its primary structure seemed to be an infinite series of machines until I realized that the structure was built of objects, which could be on one or several machines, near or far: the advantage of a hidden protocol was greater expansion without fear, an ability to know data in its own context and group it by characteristics of the data and not by machine or financial structure; this realization enables me to plough into machine code and documentation in one object, one that soon learned some of my request patterns, and began to preassemble queries and subcontextual searches for me. To every grouping of data it recognized a surface pattern; underneath that patternit recognized the subtextual relevance of my requests, and assembled a structure of response from them. This system is amazing, I thought, frighteningly efficient. The only problem I see with it is its unfriendliness to humans. None of the commands are designed around a human mind, but that of a database, a series of internals, and the responses fire data into another engine, as if piping through a conduit. The only reason it sees me: it has no idea I'm human. Or am I? I think, reacting in turn to another response. So much of the past has been a running, a response, that I feel more like a vending machine. S'okay. Spike pats my shoulder - we're at about the four hour mark, and he has waited - and then I feel in my mouth the end of a fat jay, and into my nostrils comes first the fresh minty scent of good green pot, and then the dry abstract smell of flame. The first inhalation is huge, and when my eyes roll back Spike takes the joint from my mouth and smokes. We take turns, wordless, and then I thank him with my eyes and return to my rig. Some hours of penetration await me; that was good pot, the world swims wide, potentiality; the system awaits me. In my early days of hacking I'd been at first a brute force blaster, finding wide pathways and blasting them in, but had found that unstimulating after a while. No point to the repetition of ease, of brute sensation. More sense to go for finesse, and to have some rules about what you did, leaving all else up to freedom. Like being able to play an instrument well, in hacking you don't need to slam things around anymore or rely on gimmicks to get effects when you're good. Several years and many machines took that point, and then I realized I'd departed a basic field, and could only then see how much effort it would take to get good. Practice outside of school - never took computer classes in school, partially from paranoia but partially because most were too directed, not enough freedom of serendipic tunneling - and some more years got me to the stage of comfort, of being able to speak the language of the net and of computers. Now I had entered a new stage: my discipline, although hidden behind junk food and dope, had taken me this far, taught me a language and an art, and now I had ascended a new level, and found a new network. Thinking: it can't be that hard to find this, just a matter of time when you're good. And then - who's running this thing? Not much time to ponder. I grab some documentation on the languages of the protocols, which appears to be variations on the basic protocol, and by the language spoken specifies a lot of the object manipulation, leaving the rest up to intricate, compact coding. All of which appears to be designed to look random, to be invisible to the security eye, or any eye but the one acquainted with the language already. I couldn't have done better myself. The only aspect of this net that staggers me: who's running this thing, if it takes adjustment time to understand requests phrased by humans? Was this a mutation from the endless dead cycles of AIs, databases, servers, protocols, daemons, and bored outpost workstations? Selfawareness? I can't find that, but the eerie way the network reshapes itself in response to queries, rerepresenting data and objects as if the viewfinder had twisted in a fall, and the way it builds extensible data structures as if anticipating the range of question, have alerted me to an underlying structure more powerful than most of what I had witnessed to that date. More data expands into view. I think it operates by finding inverses and working from there, creating a span of possibility, playing with the calibration of infinity, and then rebuilding itself based upon the data. Part of what held back my thinking was the extremist nature of it; when I got a dead end, I'd back up and pull out, react in the opposite rather than the inverse. Computing inverses it was ahead of me. A terrifying machine to meet in conflict; a terrifying network to penetrate. Security buzzes around us (the machine - net - and I) but I realize I am covered by the machine, that its masking of my activities has lead them to be assimilated as routine processes of the net. With all that shifting, it must be easy - or am I incorporated into this thing? Tiles of the floor. Onward. The structure seems a mess to my infant mind for it, placing it compartmentally. But there is intricacy here, like the interlocking lace of a vacant lot flower, that I can barely see, much less decode. I invoke a few demons on my rig to help me, having them process incoming information and filter, translating from the original. So much in language. Vaguely aware of smoking, and of lighting a religious artifact. Just more data in the brain. The world stretches before me, a series of helical extensions mutating in response to its turning, represented as chronology but more accurately delineated by requests, which I can see mutate the structure from within. So much complexity. I query the machine for data on myself, a prime hacker mistake, but I must know: how does it think human? And of what? A pause. Drywall mouth. Movement in the periphery, taking in Spike in a corner, waking up at my movement. Ash taste. And here comes: a brief synopsis of past, police record included, some assessment of abilities from an official test, parking violations, a couple of bulletins cross-referencing me from various computer security agencies (and two private firms), and an employment history complete with current address. Some of this stuff I hadn't known, and had never expected to see in one place. Queries for financial and educational data are available, and I run them, sending them scurrying for information in the background. And then more data comes: labeled current intrusion report. I must have gasped; Spike is watching. I open the file, and there is a listing of connections, a report of activities, and finally, a listing of the contents of my machine. The protocol works both ways. The inverse is accomplished. And suddenly empty I was, feeling the gut echo of realization, the ashen fatigue descending over my shoulders to blank me out. I break connection. "Let's go." Not blankly, but surprisingly normal sounding. Spike helps me, and we hit the road. He watches me in the mirror. Concern. For now I don't care: I understand, and from this structure - well, I am a part of the structure. And there is no inverse to be found. We descend the valley. We fold into the parking lot of a motel, the ground eroding under us with the roll of gravel. Into the office and the clerk is worn narrow drab by the job, I am guessing: hair curved downward with the listlessness of summer heatbaked leaves, lifeless in their collapse. Under that a defensive nose. Still more to the narrow face, mainly smooth lines worn uninspired by aging. Clothing matches colors conservatively: a purple shirt organized around the boxes of the pockets, and grey-black slacks with frosting on the creases, running past the dryclean wearing. Eyes submerged in the tiredness flowing upward in the red of his lower lids. Spike and I need hours to rest. A transaction of cash, no cards, a room key with a thank you attached and we're into the moist unused smell of a motel room, a component box in a forest of them stretching defiant against the direction of the freeway, which leads away to the east. #unconscious: low, medium #unconscious: deeper stretch of sleep, density descending (soaking into sand, heavy wetness) #unconscious: apocalyptic intensity (the motel floor collapses downward into feathers, the tatters of the room itself reassembling elsewhere. they evade through the oily water of reality and appear out of the blackness elsewhere. everything's an elsewhere. these words I -- your slumbering brain, unslumbering but unlimbered -- speak to you have nothing to do with reality, and follow a linear contiguity only in the base meanings of the words, what whatever is left of your interpretive process will grab in immediate weariness. the actual aspect of this conversation is in the multiplicity of these speech units, the harmonics on the chords, which are strung together with a real theory and not the weary expedient non-entity of structure most speak. the door is a pink-grey in the loss of light; the sink runs blatant, the silver faucet turning above it, the chin of water it drops steaming into the hole. the hole sucks it down with the washing of a thirstiness. in the closet there is a ton of luggage, piled upon itself in its slickness of imitation leather, aluminum, plaid and textured surface resembling the goosebumps prickle of a forearm. mother garner the edge of my eye. i'm going places for the paste, taste. is there a doctor in the house? doctor f., so good to see you arriving, and so good to see you haven't noticed anyone here. good to see your soul. sold american. the cars punch by on the crunching of the road collapsing a spine smashed impact rocked back into itself to take the blast, instead crumbling in an instant like the gritty popping of a nose under fist. remember that time you fought cathers? catheters. something you'd bypass now. draining of the waste. waist: the exercise clinic, blue and silver buffet against the freeway feeder, cars mosing out with their blunt and faded probisci. probar: to experience. need for experiential data? no thanks i've already lost a leg. to try out. all is tried, mother, i've got to pass this grade. wearing my eyes spread out like the letters on this cheap newsprint schoolpaper, must go on. tired yellow round the ridges burning with fatigue like this overburnt kitchen light, a yellowing of the corners of the windows in their starchy mountings. doctor f. departs with his papers, discussing acceptable loss. cars rush by on the white road. wearing into it their grey smear of exhaust. tired. right, more road. it is all roads. life is many days. mother? must go on. did you know you're a scorpio? and i an aries? oh, well, that was supposed to go on. but one owns our own dreams. arms fatigued at the root, reaching out. must push, stretch onward to pull over darkness, pulling it down beneath the gut and out of sigh, bottoms of feet itching tickling as if prepared for a needle so many times in the doctors office, flesh puckered for the slinking stab of the needle. in quick, the pole of steel. into you. but don't let it touch you. up fast, up fast, must over the wall -- ) #unconsciousness: resurrect, retire. (pulling, tugging of anaesthesia) #unconsciousness: restrict. retire retirement. Spike's eyes in my face. Stodgy retirement of darkness and comfort. "Good morning pal we've got road to take," Spike moving onward toward the bathroom, I can't see his steps. Okay. Waking. Bring me home. A shower helps: soap under the arms, soap the chest (enough chest hair there to stand in rows like cattails above dunes. Wet they trail in adhesion in the water-slickness of my chest. Thickness, resilient flesh with the hollowness of my lungs coughing in the steamy air behind it). Curt sharpness of the motel soap, foamy thick orange squeezed into my palm, dying my hair shades of a guava smell. The muffled voice of Spike is a broad murmur-tune punctuated with the blast syllables of his accentuation. Time to leave the shower; time to hit the road; time would be of the essence were it not indeterminate, time would be nice. Sunlight always shocks, the eyes receding tender under the buffet of its approach. Stark fingers shocked straight forward into the sockets. Spike leads and I stagger, wet-haired, a vague doggy smell on the wetness. Am I raw animal? Crush the skull. Eyes must be a little tired, hanging dark and low in the shade of the hair over my forehead, dark, wet. Spike leads and we turn down the corner of a dry but palatable drag, a main line of this town. Quiet, suspended, with a newspaper paper punched out by the wind hanging like a dead jellyfish in the stagnant grey waters above the streets. Somnolent visions of Atlantis, KY, the seat of Meekin County. Some eyes glance us as we cross the facade of a local store. Muffled gazes with chins fastly bound into themselves. Jawlines defined in the sterile isolation of stillness. I ask one local, checkered blue shirt and broad lined hands, where I can find a road map, and he answers factually, quickly: "At the corner there is a gas station which will sell maps. They cost about three dollars." Thank you, I say, unnerved somewhat, and move out of his stare to pursue the gas station. Awareness of what disturbs me, squirming in my shirt, about that dialogue would be forthcoming, the realizing that no eyes followed me, no extraneous conversation followed the directions. I had the straight dope laid on me like a crowbar. Right along the line of my nose. Onward to the gas station, pushing our legs down into dusty cement to feel the impact, a jolting reassurance. Maps -- $2.95. Guy knows his gas station. Gastronomical: brittle candy bars, thick toffees, gummy globules of sugar fruit, resilient capsules of hot cinnamon candy, brown sugar, apple pies, jawbreakers, chewing gum, jellybeans bagged by the pound. Where the hell are chips, or anything? Pay the guy $3.11 total for a map; he's stark factual, asking three-elev-en please, no smile when we entered or left, a blinking cursor on his terminal. Back out to the street and we see the first one: the churning muscle (fistsized like a heart) hanging over the erect vein, the fine finger of a skinny needle slicing a slide into the flesh. Blood mixes the substance in a flourishing hand of red; the plunger fills the arm under the momentary thrust of firmness of the thumb, uniting the body in action where it had previously been loose, abstracted on a park bench. Not the same guy, but they might have been brothers from the stare, he wrote in his diary, back in the hotel room, somewhere in the future. Meantime: Needle slicks out, droplet of blood licked away, the untied innertube peeling from the arm. Unselfconscious entirely. He readjusts his shirt, rolling it slowly, twitchingly down his arm, and at the end has an immensely direct sense of calm. Erect he walks across the street slowly, his feet bonded to the shadows he leaves for a hanging instant on the pavement. Spike and I inhale an accustomed tolerance of drug use and the twisting, insinuating, strange ways it pervades a life, makes the user an upright citizen with no fear from either the needle or the eyes tracking its silver-scarlet plunge. Longshadows stand out down the lane from either eye; there are no cars, our realization. Spike I and the habitual nervousness of such contextual disparity stand aback into the shade of the gas station overhang. The cursor waits inside. I creep an eye over the figures on benches, still, their forelegs angular to the ground, their backs and heads straight and eyes ahead. Almost military: a dedication to inaction. I don't like this town, Spike is thinking or maybe saying, and I agreeing with a sudden urgency to pull back to the road and go when a car rolls to a silent pause in front of us, chrome glistening over white breadth and black confines. There is no mistake these cops are here for us; it is only one, and he motions us inside the car. We get in back. An admission of guilt or maybe shock. Each word means a different thing, none of which are its dictionary meaning. It all has to do with where it's said; "jail" on the street, in an apartment with a known number on the door on a street with familiar landmarks, is an entirely different entity from "jail" in a police car that knows unfamiliar land equally well. The cop is bulky, compressed into a stout bullet with reflective sunglasses, on which slide the corners and buildings. Spike is upright, stiff, and I am aware of the sweat on my thighs infiltrating the fake leather of the copcar seat. Nothing here is connected; this cop is unaware of anything but routine, the people on the streets are unaware of anything but the stare, the gas station man waits for a terminal input. Terminal, disconnected. The line is dead, sir; would you care to hold? This place is far on hold. Should've edited those felony convictions to parking violations. Into the air conditioning which squeezes the water from air, instantly chilling the drying flesh. Dessicate in these cells. Wait here: a stiff voice like four straight fingers held up at the chest. The cop turns a corner out of sight; from the desk the two eyes of an attendant follow us in our stillness. Spike leans over to ask, and is reminded of his distancing requirement of four feet, and as he steps back is addressed by number, told his ordinance number violated, and told to wait. Stiff fingers. Another cop comes back, and we see first cop moving into a back room near a coffee machine, pulling back a chair of aluminum frame and padded platforms, taking from his back pocket a length of rubber tubing. Spike turns and my eyes meet his straight on, a sudden thrust of dangerous awareness. We are not even cuffed. Taken down the hall, now moving into a holding cell. Shock muffles our mewls. A three-part collision of steel cage on door, lock on lock, and then catch on lock-rim, a chin of steel worn shiny by use. Eyes are opened in the darkness. The same starkness of expression. We learn our visuals from context: by knowing wall, we distinguish human. We can smell the drug, on them, in them. In the dark. Here the context equals the eyes, which bore at us with the patience and awareness of a wall. The only living thing in this room is Spike, and the twitching of the muscles under his shoulderblades, something that only happens when he's really nervous. I put my palms on the muscles and grind them in, feeling the spasms release like a trampoline with each push. Let them think we're gay. No eyes even find this. We are more wall. Do they even have words for wall and face here? Or is it morewall came downwall to us all, wall, and from there we walled ourselves in, went out with a wall? At an interval from our entry, as if a clock's hour hand clicked into place, one of the group facing the bars emptily palms a needle, and draws tubing across his bicep with the help of the silent man next to him, who carefully verifies the tube is on and then resumes the twilight stare. A spoon cooks in the background, and is passed over. The hunger of the sliding in, and the head moves back briefly as the drug rushes through the valleys and canyons of his brain. Spike sits two down from him: "Mind if I ask what that is?" Working, steadily attentive, assiduous at cleaning the works: "Stoicaine." #interlude: connect (past tense deep in the folds of brain) login: FIELD pass: Welcome, FIELD REPAIR. To access FCLAD, type 'FCLAD' at the prompt. It is 09:38:17 GMT (-0600). FCLAD: FCLAD Welcome to FCLAD! Please enter L S C E Q: &| C Enter the drug to cite by brand name, chemical name, or common name: STOIC? 1 records found. Stoicaine. Methylaldehide Disodium Lethium Chlorosomatomate (.4 g). see also Shock, Soma, Strych-9. Stoicaine is the latest in the family of chemical subversives reported from the streets of major cities. Acting apparently upon the forebrain neurons, it acts as a blocker as well as a transmitter of vital neurochlorides, resulting in a reductive effect upon forebrain activity as well as the pleasant release of endorphins that similar opiates possess. Not much is known about this drug as most subjects have died in police captivity, but according to users interviewed in the field it 'makes everything a shade of light blue' and reduces the brain's creative and connective impulses, allowing it to record data without effect on memory, but leaving it virtually non-interactive with the outside world. Users have been known to sit motionless for hours in perfect contentment. FCLAD: disconnect #interlude: return The memories that impinge upon the memory for their very fear value. Doubt for that drug -- yes -- no more -- on the way toward real believership. Stares of rough faces into the shadows of jail bars without a concern for motion. Normally prison cells activate not as much to find a victim in the newcomer but to assess the threat of the latest entrant; not even that occurred. Utter contentment of imposed solitude. Solitude now perceptual upon our tired lids; confusion exhausts, the roomful of nonhumans of our species tiring us doubly. Spike and I lapse to vast sleep. Awakening: the needle stinging into my arm. #interlude: terror (...) #disconnect The hands draw back from my arm. Redness suffuses the whiteness in splotches on the skin. The air is thick. There are seven in the room; the light is not dim enough to be unable to see them. Spike who I came with is to my right by three feet. Blue suffuses the air in a light wash. Coming down hard from above. Something like falling backward, sinking into the ground. The ground around with the idea of mushroom to it. ...Door opening, three crashes. About a second between each. Trays all around; there is food here. It has been four hours since the last food. Eat. The trays leave with scraping on the beige floor with scratches of steel. ...A need. Vague. Very vague: twitching. Must find. Some thoughts of need. Day blends to night: in the darkness, a pinprick, and then sleep. So still. There is nothing here without a word or number. There are four walls. There are two doors. There are one toilet and one sink, one drain. There are seven. There is one. Or is there one? Counted already. There are seven. Each day is twenty- four hours. This is a net stretched over everything, an enwrapped structure. Everything fits into it. You even die at a time. Over two from me is Spike. Quiet stares into room. The door opens somewhere behind; a hand squeezing my arm, walking down the hall. One more takes Spike. The door crashes three times. In front of the desk: dismissed with a ticket for Loitering, fine $85. Spike pulls out $43.12, in one twenty ($20), three fives ($5), four ones ($1), seven quarters ($0.25), thirteen dimes ($0.10), twenty- one nickels ($0.05) and two pennies, $0.01 each. I have $21.77: one twenty ($20), one dollar bill ($1), three quarters ($0.25) and two pennies, each also $0.01. There is an order to these amounts: add them, it is $64.89, which is the price of a fifty-pound green metal wheelbarrow in the store on the way around the third turn on the way to the police station. ...There is given to me a pen, blue with a clicker that needs to be thumb-punched so that the pen-tip is out, and a clipboard, somewhere where the signature needs to be made. Made. Spike takes pen, does same. In front of the glass-eyed woman clerk is the same stack of papers littleman had; she strikes through them, and tells us to report to the following address, by mail if necessary, twice in the next twelve months. Seamless, her eyes flawlessly alert. We are allowed now to walk through the tinted door (they let us go knowing we go nowhere) and take ten steps down the street, where we pause, and sit on the slatted bench. Beneath the slats the sun runs in strips: 12 of them. ...Sweat creeps from the back of the sides of my head to my eyesockets, rimming them in wetness and continuing down my face. Sweat chills and then emerges on my skin, getting colder. Stoicaine is cold, but this is much colder. Stoicaine cold freezes all of the air and objects in the air, making them move slowly, and talk slowly if they do. Everything is a light blue, it is a calm. Like water, but water doesn't feel like anything but air. Runs faster though over wrists. There is no need really for sleep, but the order fits lying down for eight hours during the darkness. Now more sweat. There is need. Last time there was need ... , .., there was an occurrence. The drug: more. Give us each day our daily bread... ...Goddamn, it is cold. Frozen to what would be thirty degrees. The drugstore clock says not, says eighty. Twitching intense, odd free jazz slitting my veins. The bench vibrates with another twitching. Spike is one away from me. Goddamn, cold. Goddamn. Cold. And suddenly the parchment of sidewalk in front of me: I vomit cold yellow splattering acidic, running into the grass in slow fingers. Across the street an eye or three are on me. ...Impact jar of perspective as Spike yanks the left arm out of socket, and by it we go down the road, to our car. Starting, and leaving. And the road begins to pass as we both vomit, twitch, and sweat, the cold sweat of a morgue slab or icy winter water falling into sand on a beach with no one else there but vague memories of their presence, once upon a time. #final (interlude) (crescent casting shattered halos of streelight passing by my car the whisking noise of wind like lives souls torn out of life and thrown into the endless spiralling orbit of descent, the heat of the city's decay rising like mist from the streets, their asphalt pores breathing pure oily ancient down my neck, the pressing weight of time insurmountable flowing through my veins, aging crack and die, like streets bleached black to grey, continual fade of days, the isolation of driving alone through streets marked nameless on vague maps of mind, more cruise control for the thoughts in isolation, something big or small vile or beautiful, the impact rests you here, in the contemplation of life from a chunk of steel muttering random through constructs of eroded concrete; this is the life of the loner and the joiner, to drive while city sleeps and watch its lights, almost a vigil for the empathy that you can't help feel, the same empathy that puts you in the lonely mode, the withdrawal, feeling the weight of life knowing that more suffering is here, present, only kept away by time, that the now is a vaguely warm damp car, the smell of it too present in the nostrils, relaxing, the feeling that life moves past the car even in sleep, past your eyes somnolent with machine to keep going; this isn't an isolation but a resurrection, a rediscovery of one's narration one tells oneself to sleep at night, a realistic readjustment, the stolid swallowing of the truths to big to tell, the determination of motion, the fledgling might of empathy, and the wondering where your friends are, where do you end up? and realization that things move, the time burns buffing into the windshield, the days draw long like calloused old fingers drawing a cigarette from the pack, nothing more to do but kill one more and watch the road, the night encompassing, the fear of darkness, the love of light, the love of the freedom of darkness, the flight through cavernous clearings disclosed, the wrath and love and loneliness pulling through the taught tendons of your fingers tied to the wheel, a determination to drive until morning is a sensible entity, a calling to pull the soul into its own, to pull life forth before the dawn, watching grey concrete pass its own shadows, the buildings rising into the daylight, the trash clattering down gutters to hide, a mass of people receeding, comfortable in namelessness but not realizing that is never true, that in the cacophony of our machined empires the resonant human truths are what we can't ignore, pipe-bound on rooftops, sharing a jay near the surf, burning a bowl in a parking lot or just killing beers on a porch, into the void of intoxication beyond the void of our enforcement, a determination to see things in their layout, when that is all known, has been known, and the passing of the bowl over the glow of friends' eyes is the noblest truth i'll ever know) #consumption (irridescence) #continue The car wheels a squeak out in the turn, and we peel off like an airplane coming home. The files are cleared we are safe and I can't feel it, the hollow resonance of security or delusion. II Four days later we will be in downtown Houston, under the grey shadows of smog between glass pillars reaching toward the babbling clouds of the sky. Small injections of morphine will help this. Spike has found us a home, a way from that place. His spine was chilled like mine but not as badly. He pulled me out. Thank you Spike. If once I was afraid of the word love for a man, from expectation and insult: I love you Spike. People do shit all of the time because they feel they should, or they think it'll get them something, but Spike brought me out of that hell, the land of cold flesh walking with gutless dissonant eyes. Spike also worded me on the computer: gotta speak its language. But this was over a fat joint of Columbian green (stuff the locals don't smoke; to their practiced taste, it's too much like Jamaicano, but Spike and I know this stuff crushes like a trash compactor on overdrive and have no intention of giving it up) when we found some stoner buddies on our way north. We bounced between Cleveland and Iowa a few times, then began a slow perusal of northern states. All clear records came from the south. I decided to verify the state of our records with my new friend of unease, the network I couldn't imagine naming, and cautiously extended a local construction of some machines that I had commandeered for that purpose (belonging to a paper company a continent away). The local architecture defeated it; too much noise. From other machines I built a contextual network across three continents, and then scaled down, as this network doesn't care about size, only data. It links them in concepts, contexts. So I built an emulation of myself, a machine which existed to thrust its hidden signal into the ever-flowing cacaphony of mainstream noise, encoding within that signal another protocol, an insurgent noise which overwhelmed and then entered the matrix of the hidden network. Based it upon a little used feature of data relativity within the network - from an inverse, I constructed a self- referential argument; this spread confusion and susceptibility to bogus responses to more-data requests. I am amazed how easily it worked - but more. I queried it on me and Spike, and found Spike had no record, and I had a traffic ticket (a cashier's check hit the US mail service that afternoon, in an envelope addressed to the DPS in an envelope addressed to a local friend who'd mail it) but no serious record. The welt had closed, the scar tissue receded. Tissue lost in the mass of it, pouring past, some of it alive, with some ideas, but most dead, grey, unaware. I asked it several times, but it reported no more intrusion requests. Sometime around Athens, TX, I lost all ability to connect with it. The protocol eclipsed along a chromatic and vanished into the noise, pulling away into a void too large to grasp. I at first panicked and locked myself in a toilet for six hours, afraid of another arrest, the jail time. Must have been the Cyclopic Thai that Spike and I had murdered an eighth of earlier that day. I tried more connects, feeling braver when the next sun rose and I was free, clear, alive. Too much noise, but I found the assumption of the noise calming: it is in here somewhere, and I will find it. Others fear the noise, but that's a brute-force thrust, not the finesse of hacking. A beauty, a martial art like all of them are. It awaits me, or a new narration of me, an identity to borrow for a jaunt with this system. No mocking, it just moves: it processes like all else, with no thought for its death, but with movement toward life. Someday it may live. Hopefully at that point in time I'll have a network to watch it (of my own, or rather - borrowed, to become my own). A cool night breeze washes in over the desert, disturbing small whorls of dust to coagulate in the dark inscrutable air. So much noise in the silent desert, but so much of it - so much freedom. I have learned its value. Four days more and we will be free again to move, with hopefully the small worm I unleashed across the network metamorphosizing into uselessness, having eaten all of our files. With those gone we have relative freedom to build our identities and begin a relatively clean life again, although any disturbances may resurrect our files. No problems - from the perspective of freedom, I'm less afraid of screwing up. Caution is the byword, as Spike used to smirk. We are however going to cautiously murder tons of really good green pot, or maybe vary and go for some of the dry brown stuff that makes you peel your eyelashes off the ceiling. Houston's not a bad city, but another location. More than location, but it has its advantages: Below us by thirty miles lies Galveston, with an honest and beautiful blue sky. The inverted silhouette of the expanse of the ocean, the insignia of freedom. [-sven:firstname.lastname@example.org] /--------------------------------------------------------------------------\ | In our continuing search for meaningful survival among the labyrinthine | | complexities of modern decay, resonant human truths are what we cannot | | afford to ignore. | \--------------------------------------------------------------------------/ [EOF]
note: this was the last article.