he elevator to the platform stinks of musk and perfume. I think someone’s been living in it. It strikes me as a good idea.

They shut down the subway after 12, no one would know. It sure beats sleeping in a storefront or bathroom. There are many instances where my life as an artist crosses lines with the homeless, but I’m too productive to sit around all day. What does it mean to be an artist? Does becoming an artist mean you’ve stepped out of the stream, faced down the fear? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s authentic until the artist has thrown in the towel at least a million times. I don’t know what fear or stream could bother one past a certain point. The train stalls at Aviation, pulling me from my thoughts, which were heavily bent toward figuring out what happened to all of my pens. I’d not yet exhausted one, yet all of them were gone, this one nearly useless. There’s a certain pressure you feel, the clamor of those with needs, frustrations, who want what you’ve got — even if you’re sleeping on someone’s couch. I was nearly to Watts, late as it was. I wouldn’t have a chance to find another pen until Fontana, but I was exhausted anyway. Maybe I’d enjoy the downtime, read, talk out loud, work with the camera... I’m not much of a pedestrian. As I

T

A B R I E F L O O K AT S U B U R B I A

I VENTURE DEEP INTO THE INLAND EMPIRE

six te e n. HOW

TO SAVE THE GIRL

struggle to write with the last bit of ink, a homeless man begins playing guitar, Feliz Navidad, introducing a shit storm of society coming apart — this New Year’s eve on the train… I keep my head down, but without a pen I’ve become newly vulnerable. I was surprised when I finally made it to the kiosk. The man behind the window was pleasant, gentle. Did he have some kind of one–way glass? I don’t see how anyone could watch the shitty parade, the beaten–down remnants of the American dream, without throwing up a little inside. I guess he had his guarantee of a fat steak every week and whatever it was keeping him off the streets, his little hat and uniform. Good for him. I finally sat down, watched the stream of humanity packing into Union Station. I can’t say there was a feeling of hope in the air, but something. Maybe they were keyed up, for the change. I’m sure if you asked anyone they would say they didn’t care, but a brand new year? Things were clicking into place, famous people falling off the map, new ones appearing through mysterious means. These are turbulent times. The new year promises like none before to invigorate our tired old ways — though we’re certainly dragging our heels. A few pointers: Women — stop hissing like snakes. Men — learn how to be the snake. Snakes — you’re on your own. We could use a little more survival training, to allay the fear — more bags of rice under the bed, more kimchi, more spices in general, more wild animals and the wilderness they require; more fence cutters, blowtorches, off–road vehicles, search lights, underwater gear; more hand weapons and plowshares that we can beat into weapons; more recipes that use less than five ingredients; more warehouse lofts, mom and

pop stores; more thunderstorms that leave everyone quiet; more lines that move, lights that change, antacids that work, water we can drink, films that don’t stink, that aren’t made by corporations; books… can they be saved?… forget the books — more Chinese in our schools, more Koreans, Afghanis, less people who look like they’ve spent their entire lives in small rooms; more exchange students, especially the handsome ones — we could use a refresh here at Union Station. The line lurches forward, then snaps shut. You’ll be happy to know there was no privileged class. We all stand and wait. A man tries to sell me a sleeve of silver coins. I get through the line to pace back and forth past the entrance tunnel to numerous tracks. No trains anywhere, no number that matches anything on my ticket. I was told to stand near the kiosk and wait for the track to be announced. There’s a lot of down time waiting for a train. I can’t imagine what it was like before, but I wouldn’t be drifting around as much. The train was delayed, the payphones broken — no way to contact my friends and tell them not to wait, so I let it go. A beautiful young woman walked past, through what I imagine must be a life of gentle ease and overflowing compliments, until I realize she requires a mate. No one stays in the dream. Even the beautiful, delicate ones have to enter the shit stream, eat the cheese, wear the crown. The noise begins to pick up on the floor. There needs to be some kind of train or bus or schedule, or else start handing out raw meat. There was a burst in the perimeter. Like an amoeba the crowd oozed down the corridor, growing by the second as more and more struggled to see what it was about. Yes, the Southwest Chief had arrived. It was reckless and I had a tough time riding it through, the train more than an hour late. No one knows how to handle it. Travelling these days, you get shaken loose all the time. I’m getting the hang of it, but I wasn’t to ride the train all day. I had only two stops before entering suburbia.

When I finally got through the fog, my friends waiting patiently, I was removed from my leather–clad dreams of the open road, put into a new space they were struggling to adapt to. A dog barked in the neighbor’s yard. The place had carpet. I slept in a room with no light. Welcome to the suburbs: kid’s toys everywhere — two young boys in the house, domestic things, a continuous dialogue I take part in, but not with a sense of urgency. My friend was happy in her marriage, raising her children a great source of joy, but there was a war going on inside — a long, complicated story that requires a show of its own, and how to intercede? Truly a battle is won or lost every day, and no one’s keeping score. The whole bloody thing must be done with. You have to surrender. The rhythm is muted. Everyone has their comfortable nest. The grass is clean along the sidewalks. There’s no graffiti, no sign of despair or unrest. This must be the core of the empire, the part that works, for no one could survive here without playing major in the system, and they all seem to be bearing it OK. It’s not a life I would choose. I don’t really get it, the business of owning a home, here. Fast food, the mall, TV — it all seems so empty. As I say this there’s the tinkle of wind chimes, children’s voices. I suppose for them it’s all magical, full of promise. Maybe that’s the game here, to never grow up. We can’t have everyone wandering the streets, the fields, living on other’s couches, on foot, seeing the world in a microcosm, whatever landscape is at hand; to walk here is to go from one place to the next. There’s little contact with other people. Do not attempt it or they’ll know you’re not one of them. You’re supposed to stay in your car mostly, to wear clean shoes, and stand peacefully in line. Yes, I can do it, but what for? I don’t want to go deep on you, but how could this be enough, for anyone? I suppose I could close down and accept it. Let me try…

“Another day in the cubicle. Maybe I’ll order a pizza so I won’t have to strain myself. Tomorrow I’ll go buy some new tennis shoes… this isn’t working.” As I pass through this place I’m confounded by the objects around me. What do they suggest? The sidewalks are very wide and perfect, but there’s no one on them; the landscape green and alive, but monotonous, bland. We don’t know how to do this, to plant things with some sort of purpose, artistry. It would be better to fling wild seed everywhere, but who has the courage? The dog barks constantly, straining against a leash — I can tell from the sound of his voice. As I make my way down the fake streets of South Ridge, I can’t help but feeling oppressed by the colossal tide of pre–manufactured dreams, all of it in beige stucco, fake shutters. I’m sure you don’t need further details. There are moments: the low, grassy mountains with boulders thrust out like a Grecian Isle, the strange section of Birds of Paradise thrown in to the abysmal landscaping. As I struggle to record this, two guys ride by on horses. I pass through what looks to be a park, but it’s really the land under high–tension wires, a suburban fire–lane. In the Louisiana pine forests these are cut between most 40–acre tracts, a network of trails running on forever through manufactured forests of pulpwood. Everything modern is banal. Here, on the streets of suburbia, it can’t be denied. I’ve never operated within this environment, so I can’t give you anything authentic. This peaceful place that isn’t a farm community or forest, that doesn’t manufacture anything or aspire to. It’s a settlement of houses alone, and their bastard children town houses, condos, and apartments. There’s a certain paradise here, but along with it a terror, a forfeit of whatever promise of greatness. Not the American dream, surely, to drift through an entire life with no real demarcation, no contribution to society. To exist in this bardo of suburbia is to quietly expire. You’ve already signed

the papers. A realtor comes over, just being friendly, skimming information, hunting for the scent of carrion, the foreclosure, the short sale. It’s all money to her. She was real happy to hear I was a Zen guy, non–threatening, not playing the market, “Isn’t that nice?” The streets are clean, the air is clean. Welcome to Fontana. A motorcycle cop hands out a ticket, allays another dangerous motorist. A beautiful young woman at the café — I think these suffer more here. She picks up on my vibe, that I’m an outsider, and nearly clambers over the counter to get at me. I can’t save her anymore than the dog on a chain. “You have to break out on your own. Start plotting. Get a savings account. You’ll need about five grand for a cushion. Figure out how to get at what you want — a university, a plot of land in the Philippines, a Zen master you admire. Don’t tell anyone about it. You have to go rogue.” She smoothes out her apron and recedes back into the white noise. Ah well, it was worth a shot. Back to the cold isolation of the perfect sidewalk, I make my way back up the hill to finish putting together IKEA furniture, mounting plasmas, picture frames, door chains… and it occurs to me suddenly that what I’d uncovered here was far more significant than I’d thought, the much maligned socialism. It used to be the Russians, now the enemy is the Democrats. Forget them. The real socialists are the architects of corporate housing, we ourselves. The Southwest Chief was more than three hours behind schedule. I suppose this is what it means to travel, really, to be stuck in a drafty corridor with an empty stomach as crowds form and disperse. Stop motion. Another hour is eaten away. The station at Riverside is a row of benches on the tracks. No way to get out of the weather. I resort to pacing, checking in at the security station. The guards laugh at me, whatever I ask. I suppose it’s funny, the hopeless time lost, being devalued,

thrown to the elements, no voice, no rights. Well, the right to spend all day travelling a few miles, to use the payphone, to listen to the honking loudspeakers. If I were running the station, I’d give everyone friendly reminders every few minutes. “Welcome to the free world. Look at our marvelous service provided by our perfect government. Enjoy the stimulation and fresh air of our open platform. If you want to get to work on time, we suggest you leave four hours early. Expect delays. Do not try to walk, as our security personnel are trained to intercept stragglers. Please enjoy your stay at the cement waiting slab.”

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