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A Hole to China: Part 4

The fourth of five parts.

Part 1: She left. I asked for it, I think.
Part 2: They met in a bar.
Part 3: Favoring the He-Fucked-It-Up version of events.


It was starting to be cold in the morning and stay cold until night and Anna wore black tights under her formless ("sexless," she called it) black wool dress. Absolutely formless, and absolutely capable of freeing Anna to center her thinking and seeing self even further within. A dark-gold, fake-fur-lined pseudo-cossack hat she went specifically to Oak Brook to get, gave her head a slight point, particularly in shadow. You could see not only breath now but the shadow of breath, and it though it was warmer as close to Lake Michigan ("a stone's throw") than inland, cold was cold. A calico scarf, wool and scratchy, and driving gloves from Lord & Taylor at the Water Tower. And a burgundy leather bag that was her sister's first.

Anna had no idea, really none, of how her boss Ray Johnson longed for her. There's a reason people use the word long. Ray was living, breathing proof. To him, she was never, ever sexless, think what she might.

Hole to China

She and her sister Tanya Gaun lived in an apartment together until Tanya moved in with her own boyfriend in Printer's Row. For a while it was Billy, Anna, and Tanya. No one had much privacy. Billy stayed at his own campsite a lot. That's what Anna called it: "This is a campsite." New towels and fresh flowers did not impress her.

Now Tanya and Anna and Billy each lived alone. Tanya's fiancee turned out to be more "sophisticated" (bi-sexual) than she had, at first, realized. But she kicked some quick and efficient ass when she found out, did a damned fine job in fact, got the condominium and what was left of his sizable portfolio, got an AIDS test (negative, for now), and took up smoking again. Not a bad recovery.

Anna had no idea how much and how quickly she would fall in loving with living alone. She wasn't any more scared than ever, no more, no less. Which was something she hadn't counted on, when she would lie in bed before falling asleep and think of reasons to be frightened of maybe getting her own place. She used to think it would happen with a man but lately she'd been thinking that maybe she could just do it on her own. It was the first in a series of thoughts, which amounted to a logical process of realization, which she dreaded having to face, of being alone, of living alone, specifically without a man but also without another woman. And precisely as she thought of it, she discovered unmapped land: maybe it would be fun as all holy hell for at least a little while.

Holy Jiminy Jesus!

Fun. To her, the word meant trouble, badness, somehow, for an adult. She used to think it would be a sign of failure to finally live alone, and to rely on herself and no one else by this "time in her life" (as she had once, as a teenager, imagined): i.e. later in her twenties than was automatically a relief anymore.

And then necessity mothered a positive attitude. An almost jocky elan. She did something she had not been taught directly but had witnessed, in her family life and work life: she copped the proverbial CAN-DO. Totally out of necessity, out of having to find a way to emotionally survive, to just sleep at night, she made two promises to herself: 1) to not break anymore promises to herself and 2) to go for it. She felt that her steering favored shame, and she just decided to pull back the other way, back toward center. Freedom. Free. Almost rhymes with fear. She wanted a man but didn't need one. She wanted a man but didn't need one.

And she realized that she, in fact, could keep going.

I and I are like, "Go."

Free at last, free at last.

And then, and only then, after having taken a small chance, almost defying herself, she discovered an appetite she had never before known with such sureness and passion: she wanted to make money so that she could stay free. She remembered something she read in school but didn't understand there: "When the infinite servitude of woman shall have ended, when she will be able to live by ad for herself; then, man - hitherto abominable - having given her her freedom, she too will be a poet. Woman will discover the unknown. Will her world be different from ours? She will discover strange, unfathomable things, repulsive, delicious." She barely remembered it, even, barely remembered not trusting the idea at first, barely remembering if it was a letter or a poem by Rimbaud or Rilke. Someone with an "r." She knew she wanted to rely on no one, anymore. No one. There. Boom.

She wanted to make a lot of money. Boom. She wanted to be very free. She was sure of it now. She wanted to be able to go out and get a bird if she damn well felt like it one time. Absolutely sure of it now. Yes. And she was also (dizzied by the clarity of it all now) confident that she was quite capable of doing it. She realized it was going to be a hell of a lot of work, and she didn't like that so much, but there was no fucking way she was ever going to worry about who or what was going to take care of her and she vowed to live well, and she understood, really felt in her soul, what it meant to wreak revenge simply by living well.

She would not subject herself to the gruesome, morbid depressions that she had to walk Tanya through in the first months after everyone found out the truth about her strange fiance Dirk. No way. Anna Gaun would just as soon get a cold sore. The younger sister, she had learned a lot from seeing Tanya, a little older, a little bluer, fuck up. She learned a lot from watching Tanya succeed as well, but she hated to know that she learned most well from when Tanya fucked up.

And she understood that she in fact had an almost nuclear desire for revenge. It scared her. A nuclear desire to live well, napalming the humid jungles of self-loathing. She would have to take some time, completely implode into her own psyche, and find out what the fuck that was all about.

She assumed that some of that energy was coming from the nagging voice, like a distant but relentless pulsar somewhere in the galaxy of her consciousness, that kept saying she would rather have a man. "I want a man, I need a man." She didn't need one, she would tell herself back, she just wanted one.

It was precisely the same energy source from which her success in business would spring. The success she knew would come and knew would be half-empty.


She and Billy lived later, rather than sooner, after Milwaukee Avenue became Ditka Drive and North Avenue became Butkus Parkway. After Mt. Rushmore had Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, TR, an erect cock and shaggy balls (JFK) but before the second President Johnson ("Wiser men than me have called the last century the American Century. My vision for America now is to be the leader of this, the World Century . . . ") was added. The El still stops at the corner of Butkus, Damen, and Ditka. That's near the Lynx Building, on the Near Northwest Side, just nart of both Schiller and Goethe.

Pat was legal, cigs weren't. And toxins now distorted the atmosphere such that it often looked red rather than blue.

Madeleine McMann openly and without angst wants to be an artist. Or thinks she wants to be one. And for a time, in lieu of being one, she married one.

Billy McMann is struggling writer, and a writing struggler. He's suspicious of both art and artists, but only because he sees in the artist a hint of a side of himself he doesn't, yet, want to face. Facing that part of himself will take a more refined maturity than he's capable of at the present time. Maybe he'll grow. Maybe.

And Billy McMann actually had a perfectly legal doctor's prescription for government-issue marijuana "for relief from the debilitating effects of The Nausea." Yes.

It was possible. Thing was, Uncle Sam's dope was lame. Lame. Sixties potency, relatively lame. So. Not much had really changed. If you wanted weed that was any good, or any kind of tobacco, you had to see The Man. Even if it was a woman, it was still The Man.

Billy was mangled.

He awoke regretfully, crippled with Nausea, mute with disgust.

He flopped and gasped like a dry-docked catfish.

He flopped to the mirror. In it he beheld an ersatz miesterwerk of faintly muted horror, one with a mattress-matted jet-black crew-cut, something out of Lovecraft: Cubist eyes, singular, unrelated; earless in an impressionistic mode; and the eyes actually did seem crooked, the skin now more like scales, deep red lines inlaid in the cheeks which anyway were ghastly primary hues unholy on human flesh. Styes. Boils. Blackheads. A crushing headache, down into the teeth, kept one styed-eye virtually closed.

He looked bad, he looked really, really bad. Like the old prisoner from Papillon, asking "How do I look?" and he's utterly grizzled, fried, but Papillon is kind, and then later an equally fried and grizzled Papillon, grizzled but at least a grizzled Steve McQueen, asks the same goddam question, having come around.

"How do I look?"

In the novel, Henri Cherriere specifies his theory that the real first grizzled guy was, among other things, quite obviously "a victim of brutal masturbation." Papillon stayed sharp with mental numbers games, non?


Among other things, Billy'd been drinking a bit hard. Now he just bit hard.

"This has got to stop."

He'd been partying very, very hard the night before. And the night before that. And the night before that. He'd felt this tell-tale way only a couple of times before: he'd eaten his brain sometime late last night and, before passing out, filled his skull with cement. And now he had to badly shit his own brains. What a glamorous guy. His woman left, not without his prodding, and now he was alone. He would be hurt and go get fucked up to not feel it and then wake up the next day still feeling it and just going out again and getting fucked up. Very imaginative.

Yes. Billy was selling this idea to himself with feeling.

"Won't You Come Home Bill McMann?"

Fifteen minutes after vowing never to fall in love ever, ever again, Billy McMann, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota but raised in Downers Grove, Illinois, was madly in love with the young check-out girl at this hugely stocked and indulgently low-priced liquor store. Something about her hips. Yes: the world was moving on them.

Sure, Billy was just thrilled as shit to be alive this day, with a terribly sublime and Romantic headache and stomach ache and who knows what the fuck else since, time being time, and total darkness being total darkness, you just never knew.

Passing out equals dying. Jesus forgives you and brings you back to life. Period.

Billy was often awakened by surgeons from the fourth dimension who were totaling up his life, doing a daily run through of the proverbial "life flashing before the eyes." Daily. The system had to be tested every day so usually about just after 4 ante-meridian they started poking around, these Judges ("I am surely condemned!"), condemning for at least those dark moments, which often seem like hours or days or years, and then after a cup of coffee they're all gone. All gone.

"I'll be damned!"

O really Billy? I and I go: "Not so fast!"

Billy was lonely.

Won't you come home Anna Gaun?

It was an indiscreet loneliness, as all loneliness is, but it was loneliness nonetheless and, milieu by milieu, nature abhors a vacuum. It dictates presence, a perpetual physical presence that is in turn perpetually sucked into the Black Hole but then the presences keep right up into the nothingness, through the looking-glass where NASA keeps saying it wants to go, "It," us?, "we," through the mirror where how many faces reflect at once? Yes.

Life was going to be long this way. Really long. This was not good news to him, to Billy, not good at all. He was a quality guy, not a quantity guy, looking to go with his boots on.

He was also the first man on the modern record to be granted a government prescription for marijuana to relieve The Nausea. People had been getting it for relief from cancer relief, for glaucoma, for all sorts of things. The times had been a-changin'. Turned Billy into a patriot. This was the kind of freedom he could actually relate to having to kill to protect. He had a Black Hole of his own. He was constantly trying to fight the gravity that would suck him down in there. Billy's Black Hole to China. It was a sea of holes. For Billy, a real place to drown in.

He'd occupy his mind with the heroic task of rising from a form of the dead, to ultimate victory in the face of utter defeat. He'd get her back. He'd make it all up to her. Make a few tough changes, non? Oui.

Suck it up.

Be a man, become a man, an actual one.

As opposed to a McMann. Some kind of standard-issue, milquetoast Ray Johnson motherfucker. That kind of thing.

Or perhaps in the effort distract and exhaust himself such that by the time he has to give up it won't hurt so badly. Period. Maybe that would be enough, to distract himself such that Time the Avenger could do some healing. Buy some time, maybe find a way to not kill himself with booze and drugs in the meantime.

That'd be nice.

Her heart was dead to loving him and he would raise it.

It would be like a guy actually, actually digging, with a spoon, a personal hole to China that, Holy Jiminy Jesus, actually gets through! The first guy ever. He'll be on 60 Minutes.

"Whatever gets you through your life."

Digging from city to city.

Cities: it was all in the lighting, this lure of cities, in the nature of the natural and artifical, if not unnatural, light itself, which in fact bespoke lightning, which in fact is the power all animals and plants seek to harness. The power of a pure, white lightning for all the world's machines to stay drunk on, just north of the other Cities of Light, towards his old college, just down Old Route 66: the Mobil Oil refinery, the Dow Chemical plant, the Joliet Armory, and the Braidwood Nuclear Reactor, down through Missouri, Oklahoma City, Kingman, Barstow, yes. Route 66 ain't what it used to be. Lo, the Citadels.


Coming Friday: Coffee, sex and rent.


J. J. Tindall is the Beachwood's poet-in-residence. He can reached at Images graciously provided by Brett Johnson.


Posted on December 6, 2007

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