Now don’t get me wrong—Jack was a great guy. A little unfaithful, sure, but I wouldn’t hold it against him. And sure, Rock n’ Roll came from the States. We had our Elvis, and Chuck Berry, and all that. But the attitude, the charm, and the raw, awesome power of Rock n’ Roll never made themselves known, never reared their collective head of long, greasy, unkempt hair that covered boyish faces, until the Brits had the balls to make it mean something. Eventually, we produced some great poets: Dylan, Morrison, even Janis Joplin. Of course, those bastard brats in my American Lit section never got into it. But who could blame them? Overseas, they had Morrissey, and Ray Davies, not to mention Shakespeare. We had Buddy Holly; they had Elvis Costello. We gave the world the Beach Boys (along with Brian Wilson’s multitude of eccentricities); England had the Beatles, and while they may be the most overrated band of all time, at least they trumped Mike Love’s falsetto West Coast longings. They gave us Radiohead, and the Cure, and Queen, none of whom are really comparable to anything else at all. And all of them had passed through the exact same gates at Heathrow at some point in their lives that brought me here today.
I look at all the people on the train—sorry, The Tube. The Underground—and find it shocking that they’re all actually going somewhere today. I can’t believe they haven’t declared this a national state of emergency, or a day of mourning, or something. I guess it would be about a week of mourning at this point, but still, in the wake of what’s happened, I thought at least a few thousand more lives would be affected. That’s just city life, I guess.
Jimmy Page, arguably the greatest guitar shredder of all time, was from England. And how did we respond to Led Zeppelin? With the Ramones, a bunch of longhaired Neanderthals from Queens. The Sex Pistols may have been a marketing scheme, but at least they had the right attitude. One group sang out in support of Reagan—REAGAN—and the other cried, “Anarchy in the UK!” Then came the Clash, another mob of British miscreants.
Now, I hate the Clash. Walking around, pretending to be a punk rock band, and calling themselves “The Only Band That Matters,” when there’s only one band that really matters, and it sure as hell ain’t the Clash. It was the Rolling Stones. Joe Strummer had a few unkind words to say about The Stones, but that’s only because he couldn’t deal with the fact that the Stones were the original Rock n’ Roll rebels. They were the counterculture, the look, the sex, the drugs, posing for photographs with cigarettes and snarls. Mick Jones had nothing on Mick Jagger: The Clash only called themselves “The Only Band That Matters” because the Stones had already been crowned, “The Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World.”
Piccadilly Circus. What a weird name for a station stop.
The Rolling Stones had claimed their crown by 1969, just in time for their American tour that same year. Elvis was the King, or so they said, but the Stones trumped him hard. And with good reason—all he ever did was join the army and shake his hips on public television. Eight years later, he died. Not from drugs, or obesity, like everyone had claimed. There’s not enough symbolism in that. He died from inadequacy: he had realized that The Rolling Stones had usurped his throne, far surpassed his reign, and showed no signs of slowing down. For that, I commend him: Elvis opted to live on as a Rock n’ Roll martyr, rather than allow himself to burn out and fade away. And the Stones kept going strong; I can think of no king, no ruler or tyrant that has held such an unequivocal title, in the history of man. If you’ve no reason, and no chance, to stand up to the Rock n’ Roll Empire that is Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, why bother? Why waste your time?
Nick Drake. Kurt Cobain. Elliott Smith. Darby Crash. The list goes on, of rockers gone suicidal. American rock stars, terminating their own lives, once they realized the futility of their careers. American Rock n’ Roll bands would never last as long, or impact the world as strongly as the British Invasion, and subsequent guitar-laden exports from the UK. This attitude has contributed significantly to the rift between the Rock: American artists inherently knew they’d never be good enough. Some of them gave up all together. Our country is nothing but an offshoot of England anyway—how could we ever escape their shadow?
There is one exception to this, however. And that’s what brings me to Hyde Park right now. The place where, in 1969, shortly after the crowning, and two days before the Stones’ Hyde Park concert, founding member Brian Jones drowned himself in the swimming pool by the Winnie the Pooh statue. Brian Jones. Having very recently been kicked out of the band himself, his misery was mostly understandable. But given the recent situation, I thought that this would be the best place to start.
Mind the Gap, and all that.
On his first day teaching at Randolph High School, Paul Spector entered his third period American Lit class in absolute silence; a full minute after the late bell rang. “Please allow me to introduce myself,” he recited to his students in a droning bass tone. “I’m a man of wealth and taste, but you may call me…Mr. Spector.” He stood in silence for a minute longer, waiting for someone, anyone to get his joke; all he got was twenty-two pairs of blinking bloodshot eyes staring back at him in adolescent agony. After the first year of this, Paul realized that teaching in a public high school was not for him; still, for the sixteen years that followed, he insisted on beginning the academic year the exact same way, and it never went over well. In recent years, he also had to deal with students calling him a “queer,” because he wore earrings. Since when has counter culture become so un-hip? he would ask himself, year after year. Occasionally, he’d have a student who knew that “Beggars Banquet” was the greatest Rock n’ Roll album of all time, or at least one who liked the “The Bends” more than “OK Computer,” but these teacher-student connections never went far in establishing any kind of respect for him.
Still, Paul remained at his job, less out of some noble optimistic drive to educate the disillusioned youth of the land, and more from force of habit, and lack of any other real passion in life: music elitism hardly pays well. He tried to make his English curriculum appeal to his students by allowing them to present their favorite songs as poetry, and although he found Jay-Z’s use of internal rhyme quite fascinating, his students hardly showed any interest in analyzing Dave Matthews’ lyrics, let alone The Smiths’. But still, he trudged through Hawthorne, James, Twain, and the rest, with occasional enthusiasm from his drowsy audience for forty-five minutes a day, one hundred and eighty days a year, for seventeen years.
This is my nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Late January one year, following the annual “Mark Twain is a racist!” class discussion and its usual ambiguous conclusions, Paul offered his students a chance at extra credit. “This Sunday is the Super Bowl,” he reminded them with a smirk. “As some of you may be aware, I’m not the biggest football fan on the planet, but this year, the Rolling Stones are supplying the halftime entertainment. Now, I still don’t know the difference between a field goal and punt and all that, but at least I know when the Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band in the World is going to rock your face off. And again, that would be Sunday during the half-time show. Write me two pages on how the Rolling Stones have changed the world—or why they really are the Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band in the World—and I’ll give you five points on your test next week.”
“…Or, you can write a paper on how the Beatles are far superior to the Stones in every possibly way. You may incur the horrible wrath of Mr. Spector, but at least you’ll maintain your integrity,” called a voice from the doorway. “…How’d you end up with a black door?”
“The janitor let me paint it, Mr. Putney,” Paul said with a sigh. Jim Putney taught in the classroom next door, and mostly shared Paul’s passion for Rock n’ Roll; the only real differences were that Jim had always favored the Beatles, and that Jim had a personality that surpassed musical elitism. “Anyone who writes me a paper about the Beatles receives an F for the year,” Paul joked as the bell rang.
The students stormed towards the checkered marble halls as Paul and Jim continued with their endless debate on British Rock Royalty. One student, Chucky Ellis, in his typical timid manner, humbly interrupted the conversation. “Mr. Spector?” he implored, like a child confessing to his parents. He swallowed hard when Paul acknowledged him. Chucky sat to the left of the front row in class, and barely weighed in at one hundred pounds; he would tremble just the same when he would ask to use the bathroom. “Have you ever heard that joke, um, about how the only things that can survive a nuclear war are cockroaches and that guy from the Rolling Stones?”
Paul laughed. “I’ve heard that joke a million times, Chuck. The real punch line is that Keith Richards is actually God, and you can’t kill God. I don’t know about those cockroaches though.”
“Okay…thanks Mr. Spector,” Chuck sputtered, as he ran out the door and on to his next class.
“ You shouldn’t lie to your kids, man,” Jim scolded. “Everyone knows that John Lennon was the next Christ figure—he even told the world straight up, ‘We’re bigger than Jesus.’ It was a sign, man. He even died for our sins. Besides, if Keith Richards were immortal, he wouldn’t need to go in for those routine oil changes all the time.”
“They’re not oil changes…he just gets a little carried away with the drugs sometimes. Falling out of trees, and all that,” Paul retaliated.
“They drilled a hole through his brain, and he was back on tour and on drugs in less than a month! That’s messed up, man.”
Paul grinned wide with satisfaction. “That’s because he’s God.”
According to legend, Brian Jones had resided in the former home of A.A. Milne, the creator and author of the Winnie the Pooh series of stories. Whether or not this played into Jones’s decision to drown himself in the Pooh bear pool is still up for debate. Clearly, Jones was quite conscious in his decision about when he was going to kill himself, being just two days prior to the Stones’ unveiling of his replacement, but the Pooh bear symbolism has always made me question the why.
Not that it matters at this point. It didn’t even matter that he was buried twelve feet underground instead of six. There was no fucking symbolism, no fucking logic at all. And that’s what I’d missed for the last forty years. There was nothing. There never had been anything. No suicide. No sex. No drugs. No butterflies. No Rock n’ Roll. There was no sympathy for the Devil, and there never would be. I don’t even know if there’s a Devil anymore, if there’s no God to balance it out.
Fucking Pooh Bear.
I head back towards The Underground. It’s the closest thing left to a counter culture, to the Street Fighting Men, to everything Rock n’ Roll had ever stood for, and even then, only in its name and literal function and all that. For God’s sake, it’s a place where trains go.
Crossing Hyde Park, I can’t help but notice four guys in their twenties, posing for a photograph with somber expressions. I wait a few minutes, just to see what they’re up to. They strive for some kind of perfection—they have a precise image, a precise moment in their minds. They seem pretty serious, but that’s not what they’re going for. They’re re-creating something established, which would explain their precision and re-takes. And then it hits me. They’re trying to be the goddamn Beatles on the cover of “For Sale.” Here I am, the only guy who visits the Christopher Robin statue to mourn, and these kids have the nerve to take a Beatles replica photo not one hundred feet away.
I board the train, heading back for Piccadilly. I transfer to the Jubilee Line at Green Park, and wonder what Jubilee means. Why can’t they just call it the Gray Line? Or Grey Line, respectively. I find nothing celebratory about this train, in this Tube. For the first time, I begin to wonder what it is I’m trying to accomplish on this dumb adventure anyway. I don’t even know why I’m on this goddamn train. Maybe I’m just looking for some shred of hope, an iota or an inkling that Rock n’ Roll ever meant something, to someone, somewhere, if it meant nothing now.
“What can a poor boy do,” they sang, “Except to sing for a Rock n’ Roll band?” But what comes of a poor boy when he’s got no Rock n’ Roll?
I live in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of my block
And I sit at home looking out the window
Imagining the world has stopped
Paul lived alone in a studio apartment at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. He actually approached his apartment hunting with this specific address in mind—he cared less for size, price, or location than he did for obscure Rock n’ Roll references, just so he could laugh himself to sleep; he got more satisfaction out of pop counter culture than he ever did from romance, much to his father’s dismay. On that Super Bowl Sunday, Paul had cleaned his living room and folded up his sleeper sofa, as if anticipating company. Tortilla chips, mild salsa, and a six-pack of Budweiser would get him through the night. Ever since college, Paul had hated the taste of beer, but he would always buy a pack of Bud for special occasions, and the Stones at the Super Bowl certainly qualified.
For the first time in the thirty-five years he’d been watching Super Bowls, Paul noticed that the game began with a coin toss.Such an arbitrary way to begin…He noticed that the clock would stop every four to twelve seconds, for about a minute, making time seem malleable, flowing like a gel. He systematically consumed the chips, and the bubbles from his Pilsner drink left the salsa in his stomach unsettled. So he ate more chips. Fifteen minutes passed in an hour’s time; the next eight minutes passed in the life of a beer. Meanwhile, Budweiser’s annual commercial gimmicks only made him stop drinking for a minute, just to think about a drink. He spent the next “seven-minute” twenty minutes focused more on the crowd than the game—he never knew who to root for anyhow, since the Stones knew no competition. He recalled Jim’s persistent jabs about the Fab Four as the first half of the game came to a close: Sure, McCartney played the Super Bowl alone that year, but the Stones are still kickin’ it strong, after thirty-five years more of touring behind incredible albums.Do they still call them albums?
Three minutes of commercials. MasterCard and Dell. Two more minutes of Budweiser and vague summer movie trailers. Paul refilled his bowl of his chips, and turned up the volume on his surround sound system. One more minute of game re-cap and introductions. He heard the nearly hundred thousand screaming fans—I know they’re only going to play the huge hits, because that’s all these kids know. All I’m asking for is “Get Off of My Cloud,” and please God don’t let this crowd sing along with “Time.” But as soon as he heard those three notes played up and down the scale, he forgot all else.
The camera zoomed in on Keith Richards in his signature bandana and brown coat, muting his mustard colored Telecaster before letting the strings scream like sirens; a wailing ambulance, tearing through the airwave traffic to save Paul’s life. “I can’t get no! No! No! NO!” he yelled, the wrong notes tearing through his vocal cords and grating on his throat. A foot stamped on the ceiling above him and cursed him out, sending ceiling spackle spiraling towards his salsa bowl. He shouted an apology, but was far too smothered in euphoria to hear his neighbor’s response, if any. His glaze was focused on the television; he only hoped that he could somehow control the camera angles, to allow him to see everything he wanted to, precisely when he wanted to.
He watched Mick Jagger, wearing what seemed like a handerkerchief for a shirt, slide down the inflatable tongue that ran between those voluptuous signature lips. Sure, Jagger hardly weighed one hundred pounds, but his charisma, and confidence were unmatched in human history, and this allowed him to command and control the hundreds of thousands of people that were equally fixated on his hip shakes.
The camera shifted to Charlie Watts for a moment; he offered a smile as he pounded and smashed against silver and hide, holding up the backbone of the group. In forty years time, his attention to the skins could not be broken, but still, his drumming seemed so simply, and soft, and casual, almost mechanical. Ron Woods was brought into focus next, relaxed and cool as he strutted away and made room for Keith Richards to once again claim the spotlight. Richards’ head had ticked up twice, and Paul noticed his picking arm snapping up and down, stiff and clumsy;Keith Richards is a machine! His hands work exactly as they should—still perfect after all these years.
The song came to searing stop; Mick Jagger led the crowd in the standard cheer and howl of arena rock. The familiar opening chords of “Start Me Up” shot through Ron Woods’s fingertips, and the reverb on his guitar left a ringing in Paul’s head that resounded like seraphim, calling from above. Mick Jagger curled the upper left corner of his lip and crooned, eyes closed, sauntering sexily with his feet in single file. Right on beat, he would freeze, and snap his head in a new direction towards another section of the crowd, engaging them in thunderous outbursts. Really, they should be fainting. Lucky bastards! At one point, however, Mick Jagger froze mid-turn; the song continued, but it seemed as if his trademarked lips weren’t moving.Theatrics. Man, do they know how to put on a show.
The hum of the guitars faded away, while the echo of the cymbals escaped into the night air. The band sat in silence for a moment, immobile, but this strange lull was interrupted by the funky, familiar buildup of drums. Mick Jagger donned a top hat and a cane—Here it comes…here it comes—and sang, “Please allow me to introduce himself. I’m a mean of wealth and taste…” That’s my line! The entire stadium sang the, “Woot, Woot!” right on cue, and the look on Jagger’s face read, “I am amazing. I am a God.”
And then, it stopped.
Not the song. The song kept going. Jagger’s eyes fell wide as his jaw becoming unhinged on national television, dropping three inches straight down. But he didn’t stop singing; he never stopped singing. And his body still contorted in that strange way that only he can make sexy. Keith Richard’s head began to rapidly twitch to the side, gaining momentum as it swung from left to right; his right arm continued strumming, strictly and perfectly up and down, mechanical-like. His shaking head was gaining speed, until it was a brown blur of his rat’s nest hair, with a single red stripe through the top.
The third chorus began; “Hope you guessed my name!” Fiery horns shot into the sky from the backdrop of the stage just in time, as Keith Richards own head shot straight up off of his shoulders, leaving a trail of sparks behind it like a shooting star flying back into orbit. His body remained unmoved, its posture just as naturally crooked as before, but with flames and wires pouring out the hole where once his head was connected. His arm still snapped to its proper strumming positions; the song played on, and upon its completion, the station clumsily went to a commercial break. The announcers and hosts failed in their attempts to mask their shock and unease. Paul just stared in silence as a single tear escaped beneath his eye. You make a grown man cry…
Chucky Ellis started his day like any other: his alarm went off at 6:20 am. He hit the snooze, got ten more minutes of sleep in, before walking blindly to the shower. He put on the clothes that he laid out the night before, and his mother handed him a buttered English muffin on his way to catch the bus. The bus arrived at 7:06, and always stopped at the opposite corner, even though Chucky himself stood alone across the street. He would get to school at 7:21, and proceed directly to class, which began at 7:31. First period was math; second, gym. Third period was Mr. Spector’s American Literature class, and although Chucky never quite formulated how literature and poetry worked, he still looked forward to it everyday. As soon as he turned the doorknob to enter the class on that Monday, however, something felt off.
Chucky entered the room and found most of my classmates seated in silence, for once, staring at the front of the room. He focused his attention on the whiteboard, which was bare except for the words, “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” Mr. Spector sat upright in his chair, the bags below his eyes hanging nearly to his shoulders. He was silent; save for the deep breaths he would take every five seconds. Chucky took his seat in the front row, just left of the center. The late bell rang, and everyone sat in silence, awaiting Mr. Spector’s response. A full minute had passed before he addressed the class, although he remained seated.
“Did anyone watch the Super Bowl last night?”
“Does anyone know what this saying on the board means?”
Silence, but for the turning of the door handle. Paul swallowed hard as he turned his head to face the door; the class was too afraid to take their focus off of him. The door opened inwards, just enough for Mr. Pitney to stick his head into the room.
“Psst…hey Paulie…get off of my cloud, buddy! Haha! Hey…since when is your door bright red?” he jested.
“Shouldn’t you be teaching, Mr. Pitney?”
“Actually, this is my free period. And I just thought it’d be fun to gloat. Not only did the Pats win the game last night, but it seems the whole world can finally agree on who the real Rock n’ Roll Gods are after all, huh? I guess this pretty much explains that whole falling-out-of-a-tree thing…” Jim Pitney smirked, showing no teeth but oozing with arrogance.
“Could you please maintain some level of professionalism in front of the students, James?” Paul snarled, finally standing up from his desk.
Jim threw his arms in the air and turned back towards the hallway. “Robots, dude. Robots.”
Paul Spector pounded his fists on his desk, clinching in the pain. “Class is dismissed.” Most of the students ran like hell.
“Um…Mr. Spector?” asked Chucky Ellis, trembling in voice and body. “Where should we go…um, until next period?” Chucky looked up at Mr. Spector, his eyes wide and bloodshot with fear. Paul stared back, and breathed in deep only once. Chucky grabbed his things and bolted for the cafeteria.
Everywhere I hear the sounds of marching, charging feet, boy.
Jim cautiously re-entered the classroom; Paul sat back down at his desk, relieving his tension through a deep exhale. “Robots. Fucking robots,” he began. “The greatest Rock n’ Roll band of all time, and they’re fucking robots. The progenitors of sex, drugs, and counterculture!…robots.
Jim corrected his posture and straightened his face. “Maybe now’s the right time, but it could put things into perspective…” He swallowed hard. “This whole…’counterculture’ fascination you have? It’s pop culture, man. The Stones play on national television to billions of viewers. They charge three hundred fucking dollars for concert tickets, and still manage to sell almost a hundred grand, every time. There’s sex and drugs, man. But everything else is just an image.”
“But that’s where you’re wrong. That’s what you’ve been missing this whole time,” Paul said, shaking his head. “They were the first. Sure, they’re old and greedy now. But the Rolling Stones made Rock n’ Roll because they had to. Everyone before that just wanted to dance, just wanted to have a good time and all that, and they got pushed underground, because that kind of thing was unacceptable. The Stones, though? Those guys were already underground; it’s the only place that they belonged. And they made it cool to not fit in. The Beatles just wanted to hold your hand; The Stones wanted to burn your house down. They paved the way for the future—they weren’t afraid to be edgy. Everyone else just followed in suit, trying to live up to that standard they set. But it only ever worked for them, because it was real. Everyone since them has a copycat. And now? Now it’s all bullshit. It’s a lie. And that cheapens everything that came after it. The Sex Pistols would never have been so pissed if they hadn’t gotten it from the Stones, but if what the Stones had wasn’t real…”
“Not quite the uh, best example there,” Jim interrupted. “The Sex Pistols whole anarchy thing was designed as a marketing ploy. And I mean, what about The Doors? Morrison was going to get naked anyway. Woodstock? The New Wave Movement? Okay, maybe not New Wave…”
Paul heard a bug skittering beneath his desk, and pressed his heel against it, slow and forcefully. He heard its exoskeleton crumble and crack under the weight of his foot. “None of it means a goddamn thing. The music’s still there…but the attitude, the essence of what made it Rock n’ Roll…it was never really there to begin with.” The school bell rang, signaling the end of the class period. “Want to cover my classes for the next weeks?”
“Weeks? Why?” asked Jim, his face contorting.
“I’m going to England. I just…I need answers, man. I need to be where they’ve been. Walked where they’ve walked, and all that. I gotta make sense out of this, somehow. And Jersey’s not the place to do it.”
I step onto the platform, off of the train, still with no real understanding of this whole “Jubilee” thing. I follow the crowds as they head above ground; that sounds a lot more proactive than “I stood on an escalator for three minutes and let it carry me to the top.”
This station is called St. John’s Wood, conveniently named after the neighborhood in which it’s located. How clever. Although, I find it odd that it’s “St. John’s Wood,” and not, “St. John’s Woods “ or even “St. John Wood’s.” Instead, we are faced with a singular wood in St. John’s possession, whomever he may be. It’s hard to find wood as a singular thing, unless the station name refers to a literal single piece of wood, though I know of no tourist trap by this name. Then again, in an urban setting, it wouldn’t be that surprising to find only one tree or piece of wood.
I shouldn’t have come here. I’ve been to every Rock club, every bar in London. I even watched the stupid fucking guard change (which was painfully dull). St. John’s Wood, and, more specifically, my presence here, serves as an insult to everything I’ve ever wanted or believed in or stood for. But after all this nonsense, I don’t even know if I ever stood for or believed in anything at all. But here I am. Drawn here, called here, by some force of irony greater than myself.
I walk to the nearest convenience store, and ask the clerk if I can use the “head.” He looks at me funny. I repeat my inquiry for him, this time motioning by my crotch to make it clear that I want to piss. A look of recognition washes over his face; “Oh, the bathroom!” he says with pride. “Down the cereal aisle, take a left. Cheers!” Cheers.
I use the bathroom, not for pissing, but to change into this suit I bought. It’s dark, almost black, with a blue-grey tint to it. I’ve never worn this suit before, but it fits quite well; the threads are smooth and fine and all that, and they allow the suit to adjust to my body while still maintaining its general shape. Like any suit, the shoulders make me look broader, and arguably, manlier. I look at myself in the mirror, but buttoned and unbuttoned, and although I prefer the former option, I settle with the latter; it is far more appropriate. I remove my shoes, and stick them in my bag, ignoring the questionable coating on the bathroom floor. I head back into the store.
I thank the clerk once again for his hospitality, and ask him for a pack of fags. Apparently, he does not find my attempts at adapting to their vernacular to be at all amusing. I ask him for a pack of Everest smokes, and he complies, but not before kicking me out of his store for not wearing shoes. I am laughing inside still.
I round the corner from Acacia Road, and reach my destination far sooner than I had either planned or hoped. The familiar zebra stripe of the pavement hits me hard, and I vomit a bit in my mouth. I look at the street signs, just to make certain that I am in the right place.
A part of me feels dirty right now. But the rest feels as if this is the only viable option; this is the only final destination on this trip that would be appropriate for an aging hipster English teacher like myself. It always bothered me that American Lit was an English class—why could I not have been an American teacher, as opposed to an English teacher? I never understood it; I didn’t have to. I re-focus my attention on the cross walk.
Cars barrel down the road, similar to Nascar, but in more of a Jetsons kind of way. They hardly ever stop, as the law declares they do; but who can blame them? It is a busy road for cars, overwhelmed and consumed by tourists who desire nothing more than to walk across the street.
There is no memorabilia; you probably won’t get a very good picture; there are no official tour guides or stops or info or toys. But you do get some exercise after crossing that road enough times, which is somewhat of a benefit that it has over other tourist traps.
The people walk; the cars fly by. Neither one cares for the other. Neither for me. It takes me several minutes, but I finally light a cigarette and drop my bag; I hold the cigarette in my right hand, and unbutton my blazer. I begin to walk. The soles of my feet feel uncomfortable after having lost their calluses over time, their familiarity with rocks or gravel forgotten over time. I take a single drag from the cigarette and cough viciously for another minute or so. So I take another.
I step first on the pavement with my right foot. The texture of the street reminds me of low-gritted sandpaper. I step left. I step right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Finally, I stand precisely in the middle of the left car lane, with zebra stripes below me, and God way above, and automobiles from every other possible direction. I stay in position, with my right foot forward. I take another drag of cigarette, and close my eyes.
I can hear the cars slicing through the malleable, formless wind itself as they careen through the city and just past my person. Car horns blare as they pass, and it startles me from the daze that has grown over me. I try to act surprised; I know that I am not. I lie, and tell myself that it will be an accident, that I will not expect it. But I do, and it is impossible for me to deny or ignore this.
I am overwhelmed, surrounded by the whirring sounds of cars and the bursts of their horns, as well as the cries and pleas and speculations of the people on the sidewalk. My eyes close tighter, and I smile. The car’s shrieks grow louder, and more intense, as it grows closer, closer still, ever rolling forth; its headlights feel warm against my skin. The car shrieks again, banshee-like, but he does not apply his breaks, nor swerve to avoid my flesh.
It’s a strange street to walk down.