By Cass McCombs and Albert Herter on December 5, 2011
Illustrations by Albert Herter
Carmine itched his temple in the direction of the anxiety-producing event, a man in spandex stretching his crotch in a beam of sunlight. A dog howled, the honk of a horn. He who tamed the insects. Carmine was waiting for the main capital woman, who said she’d be wearing pearl glasses on a chain. He crossed his legs to produce a pain in his hip, which usually grounded him for 10 minutes. The trees were a mixture of margarita, neon lime and paradise green. Bullies on bicycles, dolls pushing strollers of dolls pushing strollers of...suddenly, the puncture of high heels.
Scenery bushes rattling fever again. She was his scenery, no, programmer. Feeding him new formulas, after the expiration date, sucked dry. Algorithms get juiced, around the block, worn out, like book hookers. She sat on the bench next to him, an envelope tickling his eye.
She made her fingers dance up his arm like a spider, which, upon reaching his shoulder, slowly rested one black-tipped foot on his antitragus. He unfolded his legs. She lowered her glasses to reveal two cold black caves emanating vapors.
Ten minutes later, Carmine and the main capital woman were driving downtown in his pickup truck to score. She was a friend of a friend, Carmine assumed she’d take a cut in one way or another, a cut from a source Carmine assumed was already cut with lactose or spillover from a fictional price tag, or both. That’s if he didn’t get burned altogether.
She seemed hip to all the latest dope news: “…largest bust in history last month in The Bronx, The Dope King got sentenced to 25 years in a California prison. Now there’s a lady pushing a baby stroller in Union Station who deals, all you got to do is…” Carmine wished listening to this rot was her cut alone, but he was a stranger in town and his friend was doing him a favor. Hell, this lady probably thought she was doing him a favor, maybe even the dealer. His money was worthless, apparently; all these people must be helping a stranger out of the kindness of their hearts. He remembered a line from The Horse Soldiers: “Medicine is where you find it. Even in Andersonville.” They got to the place, an old hotel; she ran up, he waited in the truck.
Across the street, a Mexican family was piling into their car. The mother made eye contact with Carmine. She knows exactly what’s going on, Mexicans are pretty good that way, he thought. But Carmine was no jerk; when the main capital woman finally came back, he drove away before she had the chance to pass him the score—that way, if there was a cop ambush waiting around the corner, maybe they’d just take his vehicle and not charge him for possession. Smart thinking, he told himself, anything to pump creativity into this dour errand.
On the ride away, with the radio busted, she tried to bring him out of his shell: “You wanna hear some of my dreams? I write them down…” She took out a small notebook from her jacket pocket.
She squinted at her microscopic handwriting. “I have to leave my house in Los Angeles because the police are coming to arrest me. I don’t know why. I am going to drive a white van to Northern California (possibly T’s van, Snowflake). Helicopters passing overhead as I drive. I stop and hide at a friend’s hut, high in Griffith Park. Is my house on fire? Who lit my house on fire? Did I light my own house on fire? To what extent are the police aware of my identity?”
“Yes, you lit your own house on fire. You’re a criminal.”
He looked through his reflection, at the circuit’s skyline, hyperbolic rotation. We live at the bottom of a bowl, the macula of the eye, with atoms of onions, the remnants of some absent regent’s brunch. The syncopated lamplight parade led the way.
Ten minutes later, in a cube lined with tapestries and host to a mobile of fruit flies, the Two folded their limbs in exasperation and ingested the king’s ransom. Some animal sulked under the couch, black-lipped and suspicious. The radio spoke.
“The fury of confession first,
then the fury of clarity:
It was from you that it was born,
hypocrite, obscure sentiment! And now,
let them accuse my every passion,
let them sling mud, call me deformed, impure,
obsessed, amateur, perjurer:
You isolate me, you give me the clarity of life:
I’m on the pyre, I play the card of fire
and I win this little immense good
I have, I win this infinite,
miserable compassion of mine
that makes even righteous anger my friend:
I can do so, because I’ve suffered you so!”*
The revery reduced, the steam evaporated, his eyes suddenly hardened to her languid rollings on the carpet. The arrangement of the furniture began to chastise him and he saw himself from afar as a Roman gorging himself on a toilet. He slit his wrist between the ulna and the radius and pulled one of the bones out like one might remove a fluorescent tube or battery, pushing it one way in order to dislodge the opposite end and then lifting the entire bone from its nest of tendons. This bone he placed in a pillowcase, which he gave a twist to secure…then it was morning.
Morning is that neighborhood in eternity where the garbage is constantly collected. Many cities these days, New York for example, ask us to throw all of our trash into one can, compost with recycling with imperishable refuse, and we presume they pay sorters to tell the difference. These sorters must be of a noble breed.
Whenever a male doper can get it up, he considers himself part of a small wonder. Carmine tried to write a poem about his miracle but it was pretty crummy so he ripped up the paper and threw it away. Then he thought, What if someone found it and taped it back together? No, he had to dig it out and burn it, which is what he did. Now no one will ever know. Around midday, he realized yesterday’s score was long gone so he called the woman and left a voicemail and waited for her to get back. Undoubtedly she would because they got on well together; already they needed each other, to a certain degree. Carmine remembered the woman’s idiotic dream she read from her pocket notebook; it was growing on him. He shouldn’t have put up such a hard front to her, he thought to himself. She came through, didn’t she? In spades. Anyway, strangers aren’t entitled to anything but should be courteous or leave.
Years later, Carmine would look back through his notebooks and feel tickled reading about this time. In fact, he remembered none of it, as if the typewriter ribbon of his mind was not only dried and lifeless, they didn’t even manufacture replacement models anymore. Now, his memory was wholly based on his imaginative interpretation found through his notes; a fair trade-off, he believed, if there ever was one. F
*Excerpt from “Fragment to Death” by Pier Paolo Pasolini, from In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology, edited and with an introduction by Jack Hirschman, City Lights 2010
Cass McCombs is an American singer and songwriter. He has released six and a half records, including two in 2011, Wit’s End and Humor Risk, available on Domino Records. He currently lives in San Francisco.
Albert Herter lives in New York City and independently studies Lacan (psychoanalysis). He has worked on all of Cass’ artwork.
This article is from FILTER Issue 46