I’ve been thinking. People that say that love makes the world go round are full of shit. Love is just a veil that covers death, which truly makes the world go round.
As usual I’m feeding Hugo drinks just to hear his stories and world-view, which always have a jaundiced sensibility that reinforce this thought of mine.
Hugo got a call the other day from his father’s latest wife asking him if he’d heard from Remy. Hugo told her that he hadn’t talked to him in years. His father was a writer of some note in the 70’s, supposedly made the reading circuit with Bukowski, but was, for a long time now, just a lush and a womanizer. Hugo asked her why he should care where he is.
She started crying and told him that Remy was diagnosed with liver cancer and that he’d stolen her Cadillac and no one has heard from him. She thought, all things considered, he may have reached out to his only son.
“I’m gonna go find the old man. It’s time to go back anyway”, he says, scratching his goatee. “There’s nothing left here for me anymore, if there ever was”. He gestures with his hands towards the bar. A girl with too much eye makeup named Šarka is crossing her pale legs restlessly, smoking and looking up at the ceiling. Somehow it says everything.
“Amerika”, says Hugo, shaking his head. “I didn’t think I’d be going back anytime soon and here I am leaving next week. Somehow it seems right though, besides this shit with my father. It’s like a great sucking sound that I’m following. It’s the sound that follows all the hot air, all that dotcom crap and Wall Street/Nasdaq bullshit, blowing out over the Atlantic and Pacific.
A big collective fart from a country that is a bloated bastard unbuttoning his belt after dinner. I hope that sucking sound is the start of something new. I didn’t want to go back until the market crashed or at least there was some big recession on. And now a recession is on the way, may be here depending on who you talk to. You can almost feel the seismic shift all over the world as the Giant becomes unsteady on his feet.”
He pauses and puts out his cigarette, looks at me and sees I’m listening, sips his drink and goes back to it.
“But that’s when things get interesting. America is no fun in prosperity. Look,” he leans in to me conspiratorially. “Have you seen the bestseller list lately? A fucking children’s book is the number one, two and three book on the list. A fucking children’s book, man! I know that the bestseller list is usually full of shit because most people are morons, sheep. But it is something of a barometer. Same thing with pop music. It’s all Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey. All fluff, no substance. Puff Daddy embodies America right now, all his fur coats and diamonds.
Let the good times roll, I guess.
People don’t want to be challenged by anything of intellectual substance during the boom cycle. But I like America during the bust cycle, when people are edgy and desperate. Look at the early nineties when the country was sucking wind and we got all those bands from Seattle. It was a bit overblown but I’ll take Nirvana over the fucking Backstreet Boys any day of the week!”
“Hear, Hear!”, cries Sven, the bartender, from across the room.
“There are battles to be fought now. With the Giant weak we can shape him. Maybe we haven’t heard the end of all the Napsters out there. Maybe if the big boys at the record companies aren’t able to sell enough Brittany Spears albums they may have to turn to legitimate music get back to the people who are growing restless and sick of her and Christina Aguliera and those other little cocktease acts.
Maybe some of these bands will say ‘let’s give the music away, let’s play our music to the people, do we really need this promotion after all?’, and the record companies will begin to fold, to die out. It’s creative destruction, capitalism at it’s best, and the secret is that this creative destruction is better suited for the hard times than the good. It’s not about innovation, man, it’s about evolution, and America might just be ready to evolve.”
He drags deeply on a new cigarette, the burning ember a counterpoint to his eyes, two bullet holes pierced by sunlight.
“There is nothing left of America, it needs to be reinvented. It’s not like the 40’s and 50’s when Kerouac hitchhiked around the country discovering new things without getting hacked by some psycho or when Ginsburg’s butt-fucking was real news. Everyone’s jaded and everyone’s been collectively fucked in the ass.
They’ve raped all our heroes.
Kerouac sells Gap Khakis now. Kids play video games and join the cult of extreme-violence; worship million dollar athletes and learn about avarice and how to be selfish and sore losers; they get indoctrinated by TV and magazines that they have to be a certain conception of beauty and that they have to have this much money for that beauty to be real. Unless the whole thing crashes down nothing is going to grow.”
“Well you got the timing right. It looks like a recession is really taking hold. You might get long lines at the gas pump and nihilistic ennui inspiring a new generation of Sex Pistols. I gotta say that Dubya, Uncle Dick and Rumsfeld are a better group to rebel against than Clinton and his crew. You just might get your downward spiral, Hugo.”
“And if I can’t find it I can always follow my father down.”
He’s right, I think to myself, hanging on to the railing of the night tram. We’re crossing the river and the late-night lights of Old Town and Mala Strana intersect on the Vlatava and throw a million pinpoints of radiance into the tram like a disco ball as the interior lights flicker on and off like a strobe. I felt he was saying the same things that ran through my mind when I was serving drinks in Alphabet City.
The yuppies would come downtown and laugh at the people in the Village or front like they were cool and a part of the scene. It made me nostalgic for the days before Guliani when slumming yuppies thought twice before heading down to the lower east side because some wound up robbed or worse.
“Amerika”, I say, looking into the flickering and nearly dead eyes of a drunk slumped down in the plastic seat, “land of unbridled prosperity, Alan Greenspan, the death penalty, National Missile Defense and the burgeoning mall culture that’s spreading across the land. A uniform price can yield a uniform look”, I say, saliva shooting into his wretched face, which is just about to cross through to the other side of consciousness. “All our lives can be the same. We can all have the same dreams. A small hint of difference sold to us to stroke our sense of individuality when in fact we’re all chasing our tails around.”
I give up and stare out the window. I’m watching rats swarm into and out of the bushes at Karlova Naměsti. The night is retreating up Ječna and Žitna as we head down Na Slupi towards Nusle. Day won’t be arriving that soon and it’s the hour of no-time in no-man’s land where the lost roam the horrifying streets and all life is hidden somewhere else.
Somewhere, in Amerika, I picture Hugo’s Father – Remy – the lost, drunken writer, running-buddy of Bukowski, driving his wife’s big Cadillac through the night. Speeding through Midwestern roads or somewhere in Northern New England moving towards Canada and the North Pole beyond that. There is a bottle of Wild Turkey beside him and a carton of Marlboro Reds as well. There is no music, the window is open and the sound of wind coming in is enough.
He smokes, takes a pull off the whiskey, runs his fingers through his greasy hair. His eyes are alive and look intently out into the night and beyond it. The veil of life is glittering behind him like a blanket of stars retreating into the distance of space as death spreads across his horizon. His tumor growing inside him, glowing with all the life that’s left to live.