Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Untitled Short Story Part 3: racing eternally nowhere

Guided by vague memory and fits of good fortune, Sandro made his way back to the Greyhound depot. The afternoon heat and his baleful hangover combined to make the journey stretch out like an interminable fever dream of sweet, dehydration, and livid, shimmering mirages of asphalt and glass. And children; the world was always full of damn children when you had a hangover. He was depressed by his conduct during the night, and by the memory of the sad, inebriated vacuum of Jackie Sloane's eyes. She would have bruises today that would have to be explained to her husband. He tried not to dwell on it. Once he was back on the road, it would recede into the past and vanish, becoming one of those street corners or road-signs that you saw only once: the vast, vanishing country that other people lived in. Finally, he saw the depot in the distance, a long, oval building standing adjacent to an old movie theatre whose marquee jutted out over the street like a brassy starlet's décolletage. The bus depot was a light turquoise green. It had a smaller sign over the door that read Air Conditioned Post House Restaurant, and a larger silver Greyhound fixture thrust up into the sweltering sky, with the company symbol of fleet dynamism at its apex, racing eternally nowhere.

The restaurant was narrow inside, with a row of chairs along the counter, and a couple of tables by the window. Behind the counter, the alcove that overlooked the kitchen was cluttered with little handwritten signs that alerted to customer to various specials, combination deals, and famed specialities of the house. These little missives were written in the giddy, exuberant style of the day, with certain prices and food items popping off the stationary, letters taking flight with the same sleek, aerodynamic curves that made the automobiles and truckstop restaurants seem barely tethered to the gravitational pull of the roadside. On the left-hand corner of the counter a small rack sold a selection of magazines and comic books. Sandro saw an issue of Fate magazine, and squinted at its contents through the glass: The Girl Who Sees Without Eyes by Stuart Allen, Air Force Warns Flying Saucers Are No Joke by Frank Edwards, The House-Wife's Hair-Raising Miracle....Latest News....The "Ghost" in the Photo....My Proof of Survival....Made to Order Children. Sandro strolled across the street, and sat at one of the benches to wait.

It was very quiet. A thin man stood in profile against the wall of the depot, talking to a young redhead. He wore a grey polka dot shirt, tucked into green canvass trousers that clung tightly to his gaunt physique. He wore thick spectacles, and his prematurely greying hair in a stark buzzcut. The redhead was tanned and glamorous looking. She had a white scarf tied tightly around her head, and she stood with her hand on the thin man's shoulder, looking intently into his eyes. The thin man held a half-smoked cigarette in his hand, and it burned slowly away, seemingly forgotten about. An elderly woman, wearing a smart red skirt and a white Macy's overcoat, wondered back and forth with a distracted expression, as though waiting for somebody whose identity she had forgotten, and whose intentions she no longer trusted. (Reviewing this memory now, Sandro was struck that these people were unmistakably los quē no son gente - "those who are not people." He was stunned and deeply unsettled that this had never occurred to him before.)

It was then that Sandro first noticed the Indian sitting across the road at the bench by the Post House window. The old man was of medium height. Sandro guessed his age for late sixties. He hair was short and white, and his skin very dark and wrinkled. Despite his age, his body appeared trim, wiry, and athletic. Even seated as he was, there was a palpable air of nimbleness and vitality about him, like a cat calculating the precise second to pounce. Sandro was most struck by his eyes: they had an appearance of great age and experience, but also something of the quality of childhood, of seeing each each thing as though it were freshly-minted, mysterious, and perfect. Studying the bright-eyed, serene old Indian had a peculiar effect on Sandro. He found that his depression, and even the physical effects of his hangover, began to dissipate. Acting on a sudden whim, he got up, and strolled across the road. The old man looked up with mild curiosity, squinting against the sunlight.

Sandro grinned foolishly, and introduced himself. He explained, with increasing mortification, that he was a student of anthropology, specialising in the subject of botany and Native American religious practises.
"I would very much like to discuss these things with you, if you have any particular experience in this area. Even if you yourself aren't.....even if you....perhaps...."
Sandro's face suddenly scalded with shame, and his speech trailed off. The old man, whose name he never learned, fixed him with a brief look of severe contempt, and then returned his gaze to its former vantage. Sandro remained where he was for an awkward couple of seconds, and then returned to his seat, never making eye contact with the old Indian again.

The untruth took root very slowly in Sandro's mind at first, but when it finally got rolling, it would eventually transform every facet of his existence, and define him in a way that no real or tangible entity ever had. Not his parents, not his childhood, not the size of his prick nor any of the legitimate contents of his memory would have as profound an impact on his destiny as the fiction he slowly began to weave around that brief encounter at the Greyhound depot. This paradox pleased him immensely. He saw himself as a true practitioner of the occult, in the sense that he had altered the physical properties of his life by creating an imaginary path forking off from the real course of his life; a surrogate history whose skilful manipulation afforded him immense power. The lie first conquered his own mind, and then every part of the world that shared in the swirling quest of self-discovery that enveloped California in the late sixties.

Sandro returned from Yuma that day to a life that was characteristically on the brink of disaster. As a youth, he aspired to being an artist. At age nineteen, he left his family home in Santa Monica, and hitch-hiked his way to New York City. He had 500 dollars in his wallet that he'd stolen from his father, and a scrap-book full of images in his brain he'd cobbled together from an adolescence buried in motion pictures, magazines, and novels. Three years later, he returned home with his tail between his legs, his bold escape from everyday life having ran aground in a cul-de-sac of dead-end jobs and half-hearted forays into petty crime. All his artistic aspirations dried up in a matter of weeks. He'd washed dishes, waited tables, and even drove a cab for a couple of months. His ambitions gradually narrowed down to the modest desire to have enough change in his pockets to run around like a wild-cat at night, bouncing from bars to liquor stores to ramshackle parties that spilled out onto fire-escapes at dawn. It began to occur to him that he had never really wanted to be an artist at all. All he'd really wanted was to play truant from the world; to evade responsibility, monotony, and all the other trappings of respectable middle-class life. He was, at heart, gregarious and hedonistic: he loved telling stories and jokes, drinking wine, chasing women, and conducting all-night philosophical bull sessions with his cronies. Most of all, he didn't want to be like his father Luis Fernando: a modest, decorous, sanguine, and self-sacrificing family man.

Naturally, however, it was to his father he returned when he finally became weary and depressed by his lifestyle in New York. Luis Fernando was unusually indulgent of his son. Sandro was the type of man that he secretly admired: like his uncle Fabio, Sandro was a man of spirit. Men of spirit were turbulent, boisterous, passionate men who followed, in all things, the dictates of their own individual spirit, their own personal daimon. Luis Fernando was himself in every regard the opposite of this kind of man: he was timid and self-effacing, and sought always to appease and satisfy other people, to maintain every status quo in placid, untroubled equilibrium. But he really admired men like Fabio and his son Sandro; they were, in his estimation, the most honest and life-affirming of people. So he welcomed his son back warmly, and made a deal with with him. He would give him an allowance in order to complete a university degree. After that, Sandro would have to make do for himself. After all, Luis Fernando reasoned, for what did men of his generation toil away all the years, but that their children would have better, more rewarding lives?

While working and carousing in New York, Sandro had somehow remained a voracious reader, and his interests had migrated from literature to ancient history and esoteric traditions. Thus he found himself, in the late fifties, an anthropology undergraduate at UCLA. Humbled by his father's generosity, he had started out with the noblest of intentions, but by 1960 he had fallen back in a familiar rut. His innate laziness and inveterate appetite for alcohol and unadulterated trouble quickly reasserted themselves. Not only that: he was slowly developing a white-hot contempt for the whole field of anthropology. It's implicit intention, he resolved, was not to learn anything, but rather to confirm its own pre-existing prejudices, its sense of the innate superiority of the narrow prism through which it viewed indigenous cultures. It sought to translate every other culture into its own language, and then abandon each native tongue as little more than a crude stepping stone to its proper completion in the antropologist's translation.

It was with these misgivings, and his own catastrophic lack of preparation, that Sandro faced the onset of his PhD. For many weeks after he returned from Yuma, the image of the old Indian remained in his mind as a strangely crisp, almost eidetic memory. He first saw his face in brief hypnagogic flashes when his attention drifted away during a lecture, or when he was driving around. Gradually, these flashes became longer lasting, until Sandro reached a stage where he could close his eyes, and summon up the old man's image at will. But it was so much more than just an image: it was a presence. By merely contemplating the stranger's appearance, Sandro felt as though some kind of telepathic exchange was taking place. He felt that the image alone conveyed volumes of information, all of which was graspable on the level of intuition, the level of grokking. He looked at the eidetic ghost who had mysteriously lodged itself in his mind, and he knew the sound of the man's voice, the character of his speech, the totality of his history and the nature of how he viewed the world. When Sandro tried to articulate this world-view in familiar words and concepts, he saw only incredible, ineffable visions; units of abstract information that utterly defied translation into anything other than themselves. He imagined engaging the old Indian in an ongoing dialogue, gradually teasing him to yield reluctant vocalizations of the nature of the visions over a period of years. An idea was slowly forming in his mind. One day when his PhD supervisor was pressurizing him for details about his research project, Sandro told him that had enlisted the assistance and friendship of an old Huichol shaman. "His name" he said, "is don Lorca." The name, like the old stranger himself, seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
Continued shortly.

1 comment:

Michael Garrett said...

Nice take off on Castaneda.