Five Days by Max Blagg

BOMB 45 Fall 1993
045 Fall 1993

In the winter of 1971, as a mandatory phase of my ongoing homage to the Beat generation, I hit the highway out of New York, bound for San Francisco, “See America First” the motto tattooed on my backpack … But I quickly discovered that the camaraderie of the road had long since disappeared. Charlie Manson and his family creepycrawling in Topanga Canyon had permanently transformed the image of the peaceful, dopesmoking hippie. It was hard to catch a ride, and when a deranged vet almost stole my boots in Albuquerque I was ready to get back on the bus, but I had to be able to say that I’d travelled, however briefly, on Kerouac’s road, that I had thumbed it West, along Route 66, and so I persevered, trembling vaguely on those long waits between short hops with cowboys and a slightly fey preacher, until a one-eyed Texan shipping refrigerators to LA picked me up in Gallup, New Mexico and took me all the way to the sea.

Now, five months later, I was listless in San Francisco, hanging with a foodstamp crowd, getting fat on sourdough bread and Rainier ale, biorhythms confounded by bad pharmaceuticals and the lack of coherent weather, the absence of specific seasons. A back copy of the Village Voice, picked up by chance in someone’s apartment, suddenly triggered my feeling for leaving the fleshpots of the Mission district. Just reading the listings, I knew it had to be Manhattan.

Recent news accounts of torture, disembowelment and cannibalism visited upon solitary traveller discouraged me from hitching back. But I couldn’t afford a train or a plane; a rideshare was the only alternative. I posted a note on the bulletin board at the student union in Berkeley: “English student seeks ride back to NYC. Share gas, no driving.” My fear of driving resulted from a spectacular sequence of serious road accidents during my teen years, accidents rendered even more traumatic by their innocent bucolic setting, the incongruity of blood splashed across green hedgerows, teeth embedded in cozy leather upholstery, unearthly screams shattering the nocturnal serenity of leafy English lanes. These events instilled in me an aversion to vehicular transport which even a brief stint as a test dummy for Volvo failed to eradicate. I had absolutely no interest in how cars functioned. I didn’t know how to start or steer them and I could not fathom the oily mysteries that lay beneath their hoods when they broke down in the rain.

Perhaps it was the description of my nationality that drew Sherrillee Pawson’s attention to my handwritten request. We arranged to meet at a coffeeshop to check out our mutual compatibility. She was an actress and singer, returning to New York after a visit with her family, to a part in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock opera that portrayed the Son of God as an unreconstructed and rather dippy hippy. Charmed by my accent as I was encouraged by her showbiz connections, we agreed to share gas and expenses—we didn’t touch on the more delicate subject of lodging. Two days later she picked me up in a driveaway car, a late model Ford that was to be delivered to its owner in New York within the week.

Setting out from San Francisco in the last days of May 1972, we headed toward Sacramento and picked up Interstate 80, the highway that would take us, God willing, all the way to the George Washington Bridge and home. I put my shoulder length hair up in a bun under a cowboy hat so that redneck sheriffs might not be drawn to us like filings to a magnet, and soon we were out of the long blonde doldrums of California, descending from the sierras and booming across the Nevada desert, past the irradiated sites of atom bomb tests, salt flats used for speed trials of secret machines, UFO landing strips scorched by alien jet thrust, past trailer parks where the damaged residue of chemical warfare experiments was contained, mutants drooling at the checkout counter of every convenience store.

The perimeters of these unholy locations were studded with a long sequence of billboards announcing variations on a theme of 20 years behind bars for simple drug possession. When Sherrillee casually remarked that she hoped the cops wouldn’t find her little bag of grass, I spent the next 300 miles persuading her to toss it out the window, as I secretly contemplated what the inside of a Nevada jail might be like.

Probably not unlike the photographs I had seen of Texas jails, monstrous tattooed inmates, latissimi dorsi engraved with startling Biblical scenes, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary rippling across their pectorals … my rectum puckered involuntarily at the thought of incarceration with lads that size, how would I resist their awful blandishments, their romantic invitations, coercive, pointed remarks pertaining to my imminent duties as a blushing, boyish bride … No, better toss that weed away, I whined, and finally she did, with some reluctance, and an obvious distaste for my rather nelly paranoia. Despite this show of solidarity my own hypocrisy and incipient dependence prevented me from likewise discarding the dozen quaaludes I’d bought from a friendly queen on Castro just before we left.

The highway ran flat and straight and empty through the Salt Lake desert. Sherrillee battered the gas pedal in time to the radio, which was booming out cut after cut from Exile on Main Street, perfect road music, creating a dreamy synesthesia, raucous whiteboy rocknroll mirroring the landscape we were passing through, a random collage of highways dotted with gas stations, juke joints, and truckstops, wide-open American spaces reverberating with the possibilities of sudden explosive violence.

We crossed into Utah in the early evening, and made our first stop someplace outside of Salt Lake City, a cluster of low rent cabins nestled at the foot of a mountain range. Mormons muttering in other rooms, and somewhere on this darkling plain, Gary Gilmore was 23-years-old, had not yet done hard time, or met Nicole, or made a terrified gas jockey lie down on a cold restroom floor and put a bullet thru his brain. All of that ugliness was still on a slow burn in some godforsaken Provo trailer park, distilling slowly under the empty Christian sky. I could feel the coldness leaking from the mountains, a deep chill that penetrated the bones.

It was surely this place old Bill had in mind when he said “America is not a young land, it is old and evil before the settlers, before the Indians.”

The facilities were equally old and grim and we spontaneously decided to rent just one of the flimsy huts lined up beneath the mountain. Sherillee unloaded her bags while I made arrangements with the concierge, a grey-faced woman with bad teeth. A handwritten sign on the wall behind her advertised free coffee and donuts between six and eight AM. I made a mental note of this, and planned an early start to take advantage of the offer.

We had already driven further than the entire length of the United Kingdom, 600 miles of highway, and now we circled each other nervously in the confines of the cabin. Utah was a dry state, but Sherrilee had thoughtfully packed several bottles of California wine. She produced a very acceptable cabernet from her tote bag and asked me to decant it while she took a shower. Such impeccable manners, despite the scurviness of her surroundings. When she emerged sparkling from the shoddy cubicle in a white towelled bathrobe, I generously offered her a quaalude chaser to accompany the glass of wine I had poured. She readily accepted this unforeseen appetizer and, reclining in actressy fashion upon the bed, observed me as I lathered up my face at the sink. I shaved carefully around the sideburns that reached below my ears, a tonsorial detail that matched my battered suede jacket, denim shirt and greasy Levis flaring from just below the knee, almost obscuring the inelegant outline of clumpy, square-toed Frye boots.

She sipped her wine and presently remarked that I reminded her of her daddy. This seemed a bit of a stretch, I thought more Gregg Allman or Peter Fonda in The Trip, but then I hadn’t met her daddy. How titillating though that something as simple as a razor’s languid traversal of my spotty physiognomy had bridged an invisible gap and smoothly conveyed us to the edge of intimacy. It was nice to be here. The wine had a throaty bouquet with a slightly tumescent finish.

I imagined a series of people, possibly Mormons, with their ears pressed to the cardboard walls, listening for the next piece of dialog. Perhaps they realized, as I did, that the sexy part of our journey was about to commence. Putting aside her glass, Sherrillee carefully opened her robe and her legs in a stylized gesture that caused her to briefly resemble an erotic figurine from an Indian temple. She looked up and said “Give it to me quick, give it to me hard!” a phrase that has lodged itself like shrapnel in my brain all these years, vibrating occasionally like an old war wound or a phantom limb. The Wasatch range was behind her head, her skin absorbing and holding the gorgeous orange light of dusk reflected off the mountains, and as I knelt before her dark planet I thought,

“America, love it or leave it,” my head whirling in its own tiny capsule among the chemical stars, mouthing random words; “orb,” “flange,” “mahogany.” In my ears a muffled hammering, like wildebeest thundering across the dusty veldt, the distant chords of a church organ, wailing saxophone, and pounding drums, a raw, bluesy version of “Brown Sugar.”

The chill of the room was burned off by an invisible flare of summer heat, a taste like licking honey off hot tarmac, transporting me far from this coarse interior, with its scarred pressboard furniture, the grim neutrality of the bathroom, the threadbare carpet scraping my knees.

Viewed from above, our entangled bodies evoked the swirling coalescent patterns of Tuscan marble, my white legs sharply delineated against the dark silken sheen of her belly and thighs, her palpitating ribcage and the breasts tilted above it, one hand moving to cover an astonished nipple as the moon rose in the sky behind the iron peaks, mysterious as a wet mouth in a broom closet. My soap duckets oozed threads of sweaty ichor onto the soft grommets of her clavicles, delicious as an extra helping of hominy grits poured over the polished surface of a stradivarius, and we sank at last through layers of flesh and bedding into the somber luxury of sleep.

In the morning I tucked my hair back under my hat with a girlish flourish and we stepped out refreshed into the blue Utah air. As I was loading our bags into the car a pretty little girl ran up to us and suddenly yelled, “Look mommy, a nigger” to her mother coming up from the motel office.

“No child, I am not a nigger I am a black woman,” said Sherrillee fiercely as the mother hurried the kid away, not apologizing.

She started the car in a rage, cursing the ignorance of dumb fat white trailer park wonderbreadandbaloney sucking racist trash. I stared at my square toecaps, thinking about the free coffee and donuts that came with the room. Sherillee fishtailed out of the parking lot and we raved on from Utah, relieved to be out from under that Mormon grip.

We halted briefly at a combination liquor, hardware, and grocery store in Evanston, the first town across the state line in Wyoming. The place stocked everything from cheese and spam to handguns and barbed wire. A cowboy could go directly from here to the range with everything he needed. Sherrillee waited in the car and I bought coffee, sandwiches, and a pint of Texas bourbon, Old Weller, 107 proof. I sipped that amber liquid as we rolled on through big sky country. A single tiny white cloud was pinned to the endless blue that arched above us and I fastened on that as a talisman to help carry me home, along with the lucky coin, the feather, all the little fetishes I carried in various pockets, squeezing and stroking their magic as I dreamed of the funky multitudes cruising St. Mark’s Place, the Polish joints on Avenue A, plates piled high with kielbasa and home fries and gravy, and 4th Avenue’s glittering array of bookstores, all the way to the jewel of the Strand, a long slow browse and then a double bill at the Elgin, chow fun and dumplings at Mi Chinita after.

I knew I belonged on this continent, but not out here in this high country of stony mesas, red rock canyons, endless highway carved through solid rock, curving like a bow from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. A fit of nostalgia descended and stayed on me clear through Wyoming, magic names on highway signs, Laramie, Casper, Cody, Cheyenne, the cowboy past so close you could almost touch it. I was staring at the map as we crossed into Nebraska. We were still so far from New York City, there was still a vast expanse to traverse, America was just too big, even in daylight it scared me, and approaching Omaha after nightfall something made me want to moan as I watched the tail lights in the darkness ahead of us, like tiny lanterns pinned across the night, lonely and heartbreaking, on the edge of an enormous void, sucked into the glittering city like jewels disappearing into a drain.

Omaha on a Saturday night was a serious downer. The whole city seemed to radiate an aura of Aryan supremacy, cars filled with well-scrubbed white faces, and so many cops, looking us over with vacant expressions, sinister and bored, riot guns on the back seats of their souped up cruisers, hoping for another Charlie Starkweather to chase down. This looked very much like the town where they filmed Invasion of the Bodysnatchers … or was I just overwrought from the Weller? After an anxious drive around downtown we finally found lodgings for the night at the Buffalo Bill Motel.

In the cramped confines of the car, the sexual tension between us had once again built up like static in a cat’s fur, like monks passing in a cloister, until we were finally turned loose in another anonymous room, where anything might happen, the real and imagined perils of the trek binding us ever closer, an artificial intimacy which would deflate like a balloon once we stepped out of the sealed loop of this voyage. Safely checked in, our lust promoted by the proximity of lynch mobs and vigilantes, we stripped for combat the moment the door was closed behind us. The long-haired cavalryman stared down at us from an old print as we stuffed ourselves, the shabby room blistered by the ferocity of our coupling.

What a pleasant change this was from the lonely days I had recently spent in a treehouse in the northern California woods, when my sole respite from ennui and boredom was the vicelike grip of my right hand as it traversed and chafed, three or four times a day, the engorged length of my–oh what shall I call it, my prick my cock my pipe my dork my tool mi iguana, my meat puppet my brancusi my knob, this fleshy intruder which seemed to spend half its life in my hand … I was obsessed at this time with German women, or more specifically, two German women. Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones’s lethal soulmate and the true star of Performance, and Nico, atonal Warholian chanteuse, lead warbler for the Velvets, whose glacial blonde image had long held pride of place on my imaginary wall of Horn. These two of all Germans were the singular honorees, the ghostly receptacles of my hand hammered love.

Somehow the idea of fucking one or both of them in New York, preferably in public, pushed me right over the edge, into the bonfire. I put it to them constantly, singly and as a team, violent couplings in which we chewed on each other without mercy, in riverview penthouses, backalleys behind Max’s, on bathroom floors at the Chelsea, in taxicabs tooling down Broadway, in the toilets of Times Square moviehouses. From Park Avenue to far below Canal our copulations spontaneously erupted, combustive fantasies which left my equipment as badly mauled as if it had been caught in a cockring. Nico alas has passed the dark barrier now, overdosed and fell off her bicycle in Ibiza, gone to bond with the other dead blondes, with Cookie and Marilyn and Carole and Jayne, a fusion of brilliant nudes lollygagging in ethereal sunshine on some distant madagascar.

I braced my feet against the bedhead and drove it deep into Sherrillee, the image of haughty teutonic Brunhildas displaced by this bronze fury writhing beneath me on the threadbare cotton sheets, doubtless in flagrant violation of several town ordinances. She kicked back hard, trying to gain some torque, and the pointed heel of one shoe went clean thru the headboard with a splintering crack. I turned my head to look as she burst out laughing, a rich and plangent sound that shook her entire body, the oily elasticated sheath of her cunya vibrating around my meaty spike like the taut string of a piano wire vibrating against a tuning fork and I thought of a nail going thru Christ’s palm, a horse kicking the planks out of his stall, jet contrails bisecting a deep blue sky, the hum of morning motors turning over, the boundless golden energy of flesh sliding up against and colliding with flesh, soft sparks of love squirting and fluttering around the room and something pinning this memory like a butterfly to a board, hosing me down with a rippling liquid radiance which demanded only the capsizing and deepsixing of all petty ugliness, the necessary molestation and destruction of cheap provincial motel furniture, yes I wanted to take the lamps and smash them against the walls, rip the fittings from their anchors, tear down the gypsum board and break on through into the next room and the next after that, engulfing the sleeping couples on vacation from Idaho, the itinerant buyers and sellers of obscure machine parts, the salesmen with bad breath and old jokes the vagrants and drifters, all the lonesome travellers until this building was one vast undulating dormitory of LOVE!

But I didn’t have enough quaaludes for everybody.

The next morning was a Sunday and I felt the icy disapproval of those decent churchgoing folk congregating at the Buffalo Bill diner, lips curling as if they could smell the sweat and sperm on our clothes, the nubby rawness of our private parts, as we joined them for a hearty breakfast. “Swaller them pancakes and move on,” voices seemed to whisper in my ear, “make it pronto, tonto, no sabe kemo sabe in this burg you miscegenating sunsabitches.” We were relieved to leave this white world on a humid Sunday morning. Sherillee aimed the Ford eastward, fieldtesting the six cylinder engine out across the Nebraska plains.

Exactly as we hit Iowa the sky turned purple as a bruise and then it just exploded, battering the amber waves of grain that lined the highway and stretched away into the misty fields on either side. The air sang like steel whips around the big blue Ford, and the downpour obscured our view of the semitrailers gusting past us. Hamburgers, chickens, millions of tonnes of frozen comestibles rushing madly from coast to coast, their manic coachmen fuelled by amphetamine and beer and truckstop girls down the road down the road apiece … they blitzed by at 85, sucking us into their slipstream of wind and rain, the car rocking improbably as it was buffeted by violent gusts and squalls. I geeked my neck forward and squinted into the storm, as if I might detect each looming truck by echolocation, like a bat, and somehow forestall the inevitable fatal collision.

Observing the elements with a mixture of fear and awe I was struck by a Voltairean revelation concerning my own human insignificance, how like, man you know I was nothing more than a tiny speck passing through an equally tiny dot on a map, the map itself, indeed the very earth a mere fleck in the profound depths of the cosmos… . but still I was a human dot, fragile, breakable, so easily reduced by a truck to a blot. My thoughts lurched with the car, from dots and blots and Voltaire to prayers on behalf of the efficacy of Dunlop or Goodyear or whatever rubber we were riding on as another spectral Mack materialized like the white whale through standing sheets of rain.

I hammered a doubloon into the dashboard next to the plastic jesus already embedded there. St Elmo’s fire formed a glittering arc between the hood ornament and the aerial, the lifeboats swung wildly in their davits, Ahab was pacing on the foredeck, “the wind howls like a hammer, the night grows pitchblack/my love she’s like some raven/at my window with a broken wing.” God how brilliant and perfect that song seemed, and how I wished I was back home now in my mother’s house, listening to it over and over in my bedroom as the harmless English rain glistened on the grey slate rooftops of the neighbouring houses and there was nothing more complicated about the night than a trip to the fish and chip shop on the corner.

If Sherrillee meanwhile even noticed these extreme conditions they didn’t seem to faze her, she just looked across at me and asked with a smile, “Can the Ford hold the road while we outrun this rain?” and then she gunned it, in hot pursuit of the massive pantechnicons.

I dialled my arsehole to maximum closure and palmed the half a quaalude I had loaded into my coatpocket lining, in order to gun it with her, as best I could, even though my fear of Jayne Mansfield style decapitato road crash doom was intensifying as the storm intensified, pursuing us like an angry Klansman all across Iowa, forked lightning reaching down from swollen skies to scorch the saturated prairie… . grain silos, barns, farmhouses standing in rolling fields flashed briefly on the retina and then were gone again behind the monstrous wall of water and the radio was playing “I dont wanna talk, talk about jesus, I just wanna see his face,” and we barrelled on through that curtain of rain and in my heart I was making the most extravagant promises to that jesus on the radio I said, Not today oh lord, oh not today

lord my own sweet bearded jesus I been in a lot of scrapes before and you always let me step out the other side and I know you’ve taken the gloves off for this one and Mother Nature herself has a voice that howls and I am so tiny, a mere baitfish upon the face of the deep, Lord I am like unto a rodent confronted by a raptor, powerless as a worm on a hook but suffer the occupants of this new blue car to pass through clean and unbuttered yeah verily let us go from this place as dry as toast this time jesus and I’ll write letters home to me old mum and I’ll be pure as I can be, I will mend the shredded nets of my spirit catcher and go forth and multiply geometric … you know what I’m saying Lord I dont wanna die out here in Iowa … I don’t know anybody who lives around here … but my babbling felt futile, the silent but heartfelt words sucked up like smoke into the vortex of wind and rain. I sat back in my seat as the Ford shot forward like Stubbs’s whaleboat, preparing myself for violent contact.

And then, as if in obedience to some territorial imperative, the storm abruptly ceased, the weather miraculously transforming itself into a brilliant blue afternoon minutes after we had crossed the state line. My prayers to an angry god seemed to have been answered, and I was counting up the promises I had to keep as an unseen hand rocked us through the lush green fields of Illinois, hogs and corn, corn and hogs, a long featureless expanse of verdant land.

Night had fallen and the landscape changed when we arrived in Gary, an industrial town sprawled along the shores of Lake Michigan, bathed in the artificial glare of Blakean mills that churned out steel for America 24 hours a day. Our reception there made us feel that perhaps we simply did not belong in the heartland. From a purely psychic point of view the heavily metallic vibrations had an extraordinary warping effect on the high tensile structure of our fast expanding relationship, and I had recourse to a surreptitious fragment of quaalude before we had even gotten to our room. There was a rather distasteful element of sneakiness to this continual self-medication, constantly palming half a pill here, another chunk there, goofing on these tiny hits of chemical in a junky sort of behaviour pattern that endows the longterm user with the skill and speed of a conjuror, transforms him into a master of sleight of hand …

Sherrillee disappeared into the John and I closed the curtains and stretched out on the bed, feeling a very mediocre buzz from an ill-balanced admixture of Weller and methaqualone. I was pursuing a fuzzy kind of nod when she stepped from the bathroom, preceded by a length of pink plastic.

“You gonna be the wife tonight hon,” she said, and laughed that laugh as she strutted in front of me. She was wearing a classic motel outfit of stockings, heels, and a frilly peignoir, a stimulating ensemble shockingly accessorized by a strapon, a flesh colored number that protruded absurdly from a harness around her hips.

Although this might have been another man’s secret dream scenario, passive buggery held no attraction for me, indeed it was something I had studiously avoided since early youth, never permitting anything more than a thermometer or at the most a slim finger to be inserted in my ass, certainly not a penis nor any kind of variant on that member. And yet, and yet … (thoughtful) some dim vision stirred in the blunted recesses of my imagination, a Twilight Zone sense of predestination, of deja vu … this room this act this dusky beauty all were preordained, booked years ago by celestial entrepreneurs … The synaptic backwash sloshing around my faculties seemed to murmur that if I consented to this deed, I would somehow be fulfilling certain minor prophecies. This was a necessary chapter, however bizarre, of my American dream. If the manager had peeked through the blinds that evening would he have been able to see beyond the stark realism of a white youth impaled on solid plastic by a dark rider to the deeper implications of this tableau? Might he not have seen the possibilities of a polyglot world where color was meaningless, where sex was a delicious commingling, full of role reversals and interesting costumes? Or would he merely have seen two typical degenerates from the big city engaging in the kind of unspeakable activities for which this motel’s lighting was particularly well suited?

Groggy and uncertain, I tried to bargain with the mannish girl … I’ll take an inch, no more, and only if I get to wear it at our next stop. And I’ll need that whisky … ” I added, conjuring a wounded soldier on some Civil War battlefield about to undergo amputation without benefit of anesthesia … Sherillee readily agreed to all my conditions, scurried to get the Weller, and then swaggered back to the bed, the whisky in her hand, giving me the full effect of her prosthetic device as she turned in profile.

I had heard stories of women getting men drunk and then having their way with them, but I had never dreamed it could happen to me.

I sucked down a big taste of bourbon. Was I not man enough to take it up the booty? Was it unmanly? Would it indeed unman me, elevate the tenor of my voice, transform me into a frutti tooti, lewdly hocking my parts, offering up my goods with a wink and a smile to any passing stranger? Would I look different? Walk strangely? Would the coiled tubes of my intestines be shifted about, tilted out of place, become twisted up and block the natural passage of my, um, waste products?

Then again, … Who would ever know? Out here in the heartland, it was much weirder than New York, stranger things had surely taken place. Overcome once again by this Serlingesque sense of predestination, and further sustained by the Weller, I knelt by the bed, and leaned forward with a sigh, the very image of an afflicted saint, arms outspread on the sheets in silent supplication. Sherrillee settled in behind me with a giggle and I squawked audibly as the tip began to probe the entrance to my innards …

Denial is a curious thing. I concentrated hard and began composing a long overdue letter;

Dear mother, I have been travelling across the States with a young American who is sharing expenses on the long and splendid ride back to New York, we are in no hurry to get back as the scenery is so magnificent, yesterday we passed the Grand Canyon, it was really awesome, five miles deep according to a friendly park ranger … I am in good health, though as usual hair too long and money too short hahha

The slow thoughtful composition of a letter seemed to help block out the awful reality. Finally, after years of preserving intact my roseate, perfectly shaped, hemmorrhoid-free hole, of avoiding the sodomites both rampant and discreet who had on sundry occasions offered to change my life, now, in this ugly room in an ugly town, among strangers, I was accepting the artificial chalice … I was finally being bumped, rumped, torn in two, treated like a woman by a woman posing as a man at least it’s not a man I thought, it’s not a man, clinging to the tattered remnants of my hetero sensibility. She’s not a man … still, she was, however temporarily, built like a man, this stranger astride me.

The tip was well in now, impalement was proceeding apace, and to my embarrassment, if it were possible to feel embarrassment at this late stage, my brancusi had swollen nastily and was fidgeting urgently against the mattress. A sound like Maria Callas hitting the high C filled the room and I realized it was my own vocal cords producing this heartrending, crystal-shattering noise as the plastic appendage nudged blindly into my colon.

“OK, I quit, I can’t take it I don’t want it” and just as I was about to announce this to Sherrillee she quickened her pace from a canter to a gallop, and began to pound away as if she had sensed that I was planning to reverse my decision. It was too late. Her hot belly slapped smartly against the small of my back, her breasts grazed my shoulderblades as she bore down like a calfroper, powerful hands gripping the sheet like reins. I chomped down on a mouthful of blanket to stifle my operatic howling as I felt the full extent of that unyielding cylinder. This was no simple prostate examination this was the real thing this was just like being in jail in Texas! … all those dissimulating queens endlessly chattering about how delicious how divine it felt you don’t know what you’re missing, oh really mary well just because I have a hardon doesnt mean I like no it doesn’t I insist I must protest

Hope all is well in jolly old England, I am looking forward to seeing you there, maybe this summer I shall make it back and we can sit in the garden and sip our Typhoo tea among the roses

Oh oh oh mmm oh mother do not allow me to like it! Whatever had made Sherillee think I would bend over in the first place, was it some kind of faggy giveaway in my smile, a limpness in the wrist, some kind of sign invisible to me but obvious to others … in a twinge of delirium I imagined our coupling being shown in public, projected onto the walls of nearby factories and mills, drunken sherriffs jacking off in their squad cars, then kicking down the door of our room to arrest us in flagrante … how easy Burroughs made this kind of thing seem, his boys seemed to enjoy being buggered, even hanged, flashbulbs of orgasm exploding all over the page, but there was no distant light at the end of my tunnel I thought I can’t go on, I, I, I, even with a dildo buried in my ass I could only think of myself. At this point my well developed male intuition, perhaps sensing that this experiment had gone far enough, without further ado opened the escape hatch from my dilemma by inducing a convenient attack of narcolepsy, which immediately cancelled all further contemplation of the erotic complexities of the situation. I passed out as Sherillee rode madly onward to whatever sort of climax a plastic penis might provide, and instead of coming, I went.

In the sharp glare of an Indiana morning, did I look different? I didn’t feel different, I felt slightly hungover, and, when seated, a little sore. Was Sherillee looking at me strangely? No, all seemed in order, in fact she seemed positively radiant, almost boyish. Gary receded in the distance like the confused memory of a peculiar dream. It was Memorial Day, 70 degrees and clear skies. I tuned in to a local radio station, which was broadcasting like football scores a catalogue of accidents already logged over the holiday weekend. I listened, fascinated and spooked, to the litany of mayhem, “I-95, two dead in a three car wreck, Interstate 83 eastbound, serious injuries, reports of roadside amputations following a two car pileup on I-39 west …”

I hallucinated sirens wailing in the near distance, a steady stream of rescue vehicles, ambulances and towtrucks racing past in both directions, eager to salvage bodies and cars.

I could not suppress premonitions of disaster stronger than those I had felt in Iowa, and at the same time I was convinced that my paranoid vibrations would somehow warp the smooth trajectory of our voyage. Sherillee did not share my apprehensions. She had unzipped me and was absentmindedly stroking the shaft when somewhere on the outskirts of Cleveland a car cut sharply in front of us to reach an offramp directly ahead. Sherrillee braked and went into a skid. I lurched forward and my head cracked the glovebox as I tried to pack myself away.

It was happening. Accident! Collision! Smashup! I was about to be rendered into hamburger, my dead meat hanging limply from my Levis as leering rubberneckers inched past the twisted wreckage. The car behind braked sharply to avoid rearending us at 70 miles an hour, and both cars careened across three lanes of traffic, horns blaring panic as she performed evasive procedures worthy of Neal Cassady, finally managing to come to a halt on the soft shoulder as the following vehicle smacked out our taillight before also bouncing to a stop. The sun was high in the sky as we got out, slightly bloody but decently dressed, and the occupants of the other car emerged shakily from their vehicle and everyone looked at each other and the minimal damage and spontaneously embraced. Death had drifted by and decided not to set down in our part of Ohio, it was not our turn today to be crushed beneath the karmic wheel.

We said goodbye to our fellow survivors, and if you’re ever in Cleveland, no I was thinking I won’t ever be in Cleveland, and drove on into Pennsylvania, closer to home, desire polished to fresh laminations by adrenalin, by the imminence of sudden swift mortality … this lovely hardon might have been forever wilted, this dark beauty of the sonnets laid out in some lonely Midwestern morgue, reeking of formaldehyde and generalised dread. Instead she sat on the side of a motel bed in Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania, cracking the seal on another pint of bourbon, bubbling a good hit and handing it across to me. It was our last night on the road, and we didnt care if Stroudsberg heard us screaming… . the merry month of May was ending as I came all over her highly polished toes.

On the first bright morning of June I consulted the map and saw we were finally closing in on home, approaching a tunnel through a mountain, where a sign at the entrance commanded: “You are entering the world’s longest tunnel, do not remove yr sunglasses.” This was what I adored about America, its myriad accomplishments, both brilliant and absurd, tallest building, longest bridge, everything about it seemed to belong in the Guinness book of records.

I tossed out my hat out of the window and shook my hair down as she buried the needle on that Ford. We roared beneath the Alleghenies and surfaced at high speed in upper New Jersey.

The last lap took us across the top of the Garden state then a loop down below Paterson a wink and a wave to the good doctor Williams, past the lost towns of Jersey and finally the bridge, the monumental silver span across the Hudson, and into my town, the Big Town, “I love this stinkin’ town!”

Cruising down the West Side Highway, I gazed in delight at the city gleaming like Babylon, the luminous spike of the Chrysler Building, brand new Twin Towers rising defiantly at the end of the land, this was a scale I could relate to, heroic yet somehow intimate, not the vast blank flatness of the Midwest, I couldn’t get my mind around that space, agoraphobia hovering at the edges. This world at least had limits, space didn’t stretch out forever like it seemed to in Nebraska, the planet was contained, and I felt contained within its severe geography.

We turned off at 14th street, and I was home at last. There was a garbage strike in progress, the streets piled high with refuse, but it all just looked shiny to me, a curvy rapido full of endless possibilities, poetry and art and the Arch of Washington Square, artificial locomotion and lovely women gracing the pavements, sexy fierce curveless New York, Empire rearing up into eternity blue velvet June sky, yellow cabs cutting across traffic, the familiar blinking of walk/don’t walk/walk, distant subterranean roar of the subway shaking the street, uniformed doormen saluting ancient dowagers, machine sweat dripping from the air conditioners roaring in the windows like the perspiration on the counterman’s brow as he fashions another pastrami sandwich thick as my wrist for somebody’s lunch on the run, everything in furious motion and I wanted some, a taste, a piece I wanted a big chunk of this quivering meat joy metropolis. I wanted to open my mouth and slide Manhattan onto my tongue and swallow it down.

Across 14th, further east than I had ever ventured, and then down to 10th Street, to the block between Fear and Trembling. Two cars were blazing on Avenue C, unattended by spectators or firemen. Sherrillee’s loft was a funky space above a woodworking shop. It was very bohemian. A sink, a toilet, a tilted wooden floor, an extravagant loft bed constructed by psychedelic carpenters between acid trips. But the ragged interior gave onto a fine view of the tricolor smokestacks of Con Ed’s East side powerplant, and behind the projects a glimpse of the river curving northward. Deluded into thinking that we could sustain the intensity and ferocious intimacy of the trip, I moved in. The rent was one hundred dollars a month, a figure that did not require my immediate assistance.

After peddling my blood at the vein-drain on First Avenue until I felt permanently faint, I eventually found a job as dishwasher at Saint Adrian’s Bar and Grill on lower Broadway, where the level of sexual intrigue and physical violence stoked the scrotal eggs to frying temperature in no time, testosterone exploding in random patterns, busboys falling like visigoths on a hapless tourist thought it would be cute to walk out on the check instead gets beaten out onto Broadway, staggers off clutching his bloody shirtfront—”St Vincent’s is thataway and don’t come around here anymore!”

I was quickly promoted to waiter second class after a scuffle that resulted in the ejection and minor injury of several paying customers. The owner, a fighting man himself, (his handmade buckskin shirt was torn to pieces in this particular incident) admired my enormous reservoir of hostility, and my willingness to put in the boot, even when not absolutely necessary.

“Fuck with the bull and you get the horn” was his motto, scrawled in lipstick on the mirror behind the bar. If you were thrown out you couldn’t return for at least a week. One disgruntled patron, having suffered fleshwounds, did come back with a gun the next night and quickly had his weapon confiscated and his head broken open by a barstool. Everyone thought they were impervious, immortal, wearing ghost dance shirts made of coke snot and Courvoisier. It was a brutal lifestyle and only the thin veneer of narcotic wampum coating my cerebellum and the fact that it often seemed terribly sexy kept my conscience from rioting as another ass was severely kicked.

Each time I walk along that section of Broadway today, I feel the ghostly emanations of the past, shouts and laughter and music and glasses breaking, the glasses of decent people. On my nights off from the bar I usually went up to Times Square, to Nedicks and the movies, and then sauntered over to watch Jesus get crucified from backstage at the Mark Hellinger theater, while Sherrillee and the rest of the cast capered and sang beneath the cross. I was fascinated by the excessively emotional lifestyle of these theatrical types, the delicious bitchery, explosive catfights, followed moments later by declarations of undying love, intense affairs that were over in hours or days; and the strange rituals and superstitions of this profession: no whistling backstage, never wear brown or sleep with your understudy before opening night … I seemed to fit right in with this gypsy crew, since I now went about as a kind of straight queen, featuring a fedora, walking stick, and heavy makeup on one eye, (the overstimulating influence of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange). I loved to swish about the bars, cranked up on cheap speed and beer, often insisting on fisticuffs as the solution to even the mildest disagreement. Fortunately I didn’t receive much physical damage since my calls to combat were usually not taken seriously by citizens who had already seen everything. Each morning after vomiting I said to myself, I’m here, I look queer and I’m not leaving. My life in New York had truly begun.

Licking The Fun Up by Max Blagg
Everything You See Is Real by Ben Ehrenreich

This is the unabridged version of Ben Ehrenreich’s story, also available as a Fiction for Driving audio.

Life of a Liar by Martha King

This began when I wrote a story about a boy sitting in a tree, smoking a cigarette. 

In the hand of the wind by David Rattray

Toward the end of the fifth day I paused for breath at the head of a slope of shingle slate. 

Originally published in

BOMB 45, Fall 1993

Featuring interviews with Gus Van Sant, Trisha Brown, Bernard Cooper, Francine Prose by Deborah Eisenberg, Mike Bidlo, Rob Weiss, Han Ong, Chen Kaige, Lawrence Chua, and Garry Lang.

Read the issue
045 Fall 1993