Hello. My name is Clarence Plum, and I’m going to take a hard right across America. Hope the burn of it doesn’t get to me, but I’m riveted, and it’s needless to say that I’m pretty dog tired of the murder of days rolling along here, getting nowhere and nothing. I used to say, “Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be litterbugs.” I’m not sure it mattered. Everybody scatters their trash. It’s a private nuisance of mine. Got to go around slopping it all back up. But them’s the breaks of it. I mostly say that now. Drink fire instead of wine. That gets me through most of it. West is only water. East is sunset. I get more out of the cold weather than most. Maybe I’ll head north. Anything to get a where that’s not here. Nobody enjoys the present enough, and it don’t last. I grab a handful of yours and…well, it’s bourbon and soda in times like these. I see things blotchy sometimes. It’s okay. My head stays a mess for the worst of it. Give me a pair of Babe Ruth’s bowling shoes and I’ll flee to other shores. A feeling’s humming through me that I’m missing out on things, always missing the best of things, the good stuff. Run a comb through the sludge of my hair. I’ve got my unguarded moments. Got to go through hell sometimes to catch a glimpse of heaven. Prayers all corroborating my alibis. Old judge Masters, that stinker, chucked the Book Of Sam at me. Then Evelyn left me for a bible thumper. Let him have her. Who needs her? But I tell you, I’m still looking for her in some other girl’s eyes. Every other girl. Even or odd, just roll right along through the muck like always. One sapropelic motherfucker, I am. Always deserting on the detritus of situations that I keep getting tangled and thrashed about into.
I start to think of my drunk aunt whom we always had to move. Her waterbed that finally popped and gushed out to soak the carpet as we waded away. I start to…“i was nine and was walking on the beach and my aunt who was a floozy and a drunk was lighting a cigarette cupping her hands over it in the wind and i thought she might be a scarecrow but then didn’t know if scarecrows could be women and why anyway would my aunt be a scarecrow though crows would certainly be scared of her she had a face like a frying pan with day-old bacon grease in it but i was nine and impossible things hadn’t started to seem as unlikely yet as they one day would because being nine you know enough about stuff but not enough to really know about stuff and that was me then feeling as old as i’d ever felt feeling my age nine and it was something wonderful with my bare feet on the warm sand and the wind splattered at me and the sky so big it was like it would never end and i wanted to go dive into the ocean and tumble around in the waves and be lost and i was nine and it felt like something important to be that age then walking on the beach and my aunt lit her smoke and laughed her raspy laugh and coughed her hacking cough and winced and squinted and mussed my hair and i ran and i ran on ahead and she called to me but i didn’t hear her i had more pertinent matters to attend to and i was off kicking up sand behind me as the beach seemed like it would never end and i knew the ocean would go on and on and i’d never get to the end of it no matter what and i knew that it didn’t matter anyway because i was nine and my life was my own and there was a whole world going on around me that wouldn’t care if i disappeared and i wanted to be gone and the ocean was calling me by name and i ran and ran and ran and when i hit the hard wet sand by the water i hardly knew where i was and it didn’t matter because the water was cold enough and i was nine and i’ll never forget how it felt”
We came down from Indianapolis in ’54. Got me a used Pontiac Chieftain — bluebook less than a grand — and hooked a home-built trailer to the back of it that my friend Harpo rigged up out of aluminum siding and metal bars from his old chicken coop. Dragged that bastard all the way to California, stopping at gas stations where the attendants’d run out and try to gyp you out of your dough, telling you that your car needs this or that, that your tires were looking like they’d never make it cross that desert. We kept driving. Had some of that, what they call it, Benzedrine, that all the housewives used to give ’em pep. Didn’t sleep a wink for four days. Knuckles sheet-white from griping the wheel. A lot of time chewin’ and spitting out the window into that dry, hot wind. Ah. Well. That’s how we came out here and first got started with all this.
Alkaline hell and high winds are the vade mecum of my traipsing. Listen well or know where we are. The sewers and oceans. The jungles and slums. Clean air and a diesel dreaming smoke. Families race in squares about the rattle of vacuum cleaners. Roam as the road’s cleared. Just thinking of you. It’s not jumbo. It’s not as magnificent as Ambersons. Talking less than keeping quiet. Sludge of wet grounds left at a coffee cup’s bottom. Used. Burlap and Kevlar and ruminating from the clack of bones and the gnash of broken teeth. Spooning time into paper cups. Let’s let the road clear itself. Order. Order. Ordering the important of what’s what of the who. Like that. Getting back to the you in you. And then. And then? Yes. Sure.
And then you get to thinking about how that rent check’s burning a hole in your pocket, and a blazer of whisky’d be a good companion for the night. Maybe a pack of Luckies and a record player. A few dances that won’t ever wear themselves out. Cents you make instead of dollars in exchange for what’s left of your brain. There’s a pale wish skipping over the moon, and tonight’s just an empty pocket to shove a cold hand into. Strut around in a shabby suit long enough and the world gets to forgetting you long before you’ve forgotten all about it. Gray tidings and square-shouldered applause and a fortune of subway tokens. Making up excuses for falling back out of love again. Radio’s shot. The dark’s got the only light around. Tonic water mixed with whatever’ll fire it down to the gut. Hung with a dead man’s tie. The beams break with the sound your scream. Nothing’s got enough weight to hold whatever’s keeping you down, and saxophones’ve been broken over less. And you don’t even own a piano. Maybe you say to yourself, “Don’t mock me out there or forget me out there with the blown leaves and the runway fur coats. Let me stick around for a while.” There you go holing up instead of holding up better. The sky’s your only better half. A ruined hack skirting his ambitions until another spring comes around to kill them permanently, again. Half of you’s dead, and the other half’s not making up for it. It’s cocktail weather. A friend forgets you and you turn up half your collar. Fireworks pay attention to whatever’s left. Take the elevator to the roof. The noise you make’s just a minor catastrophe. The cabs will all pass you by. The bars’ll all close on your nose. The gallows don’t need a ladder to get you to them.
Bland. Calling it like I ain’t used to seeing it. Fats breaks. There goes the eight ball. You know how it goes. Those things. It’s not that I don’t got class. I’ve just dismissed it. Early. A boon to the famished instincts hunting all over for a way to not have to go again. Phone calls gone MIA. I got a girl who ties my shoes for me. I’m not disturbed by any of it. Let her pass spelling on to the golf prose. Who needs her? Full of grouching and bemoaning and hustling me out of my own apartment. A cat’s crawled into the alley. Time to let it go. Extremely perishable at all times. Pinned. Counted out. I’m putting the punch back in Hawaiian. All the crowd wants is more noise. The lights are always so insecure, going around begging for a smoke. Broke the shade. Misunderstood the robbers. Went holy-over-holly to get back to the crooked and wide. Bundle my head up with cigar smoke. I’m all shook up.
As the afternoon goes calling for beer I go scouting familiar things: playing cards, gum and glue, tinsel, a dusty necktie, badly dented cymbals, lace-less Vans, bad manners, a cold half-cup of coffee, cigarette ash on an old movie poster for Dance Hall Racket, gray boxing gloves, bank receipts curling in a pile, toast crumbs and toothpaste stains. There’s no bottom to this. I put in a little time swaying towards Bethlehem. It’s redemption’s plight. Sorry, so-so, or a big fat pink slip from directly up above. That’s how much we’ll get done caring about the condition of the economy’s jugular. In general, by the time I get back to the bottle it’ll be time the bottle’s had just a bit more than enough of me. I can cope. It’s legitimate. Performing CPR on the city’s punctured ego. Clattered. Buddying up. Valor buys itself another lady for the night, and I’m stuck lurking in the lesser-known side streets of ways I used to know so well. Get a lunch special of whatever it is that’s driving distraction around. Really not the strangest route if you start to think about stopping to think about it. Tariffs paid by skid row’s finest. Bused to the delivery section of Go Thou Across The Land. Raincoating your dreams. Cut in of or out for whatever it is that arrives later than night. Buying less of what’s in store for the damaged. Fleeing four-wheeled terror. Vast and ill-tempered. Burnt out on being good. But my dreams ain’t good enough. Not no more. Wrecked in the blessed I go forth and do as I must.
Taking no for a question. There’re places to get to. Lots of down-and-out to climb over. I make speeches in strange voices I’ve never known to crowds of paramilitarians and earless boxes of musty clothes. Never to be squeezed safely home again. Pour me a drink of moonlight, forget the ice. Pass me that hat that’s going around. Surely as two right feet left. The road screams Clarence. I forget the sound my name makes. Sarah Bernhardt’s calling, calling. Dear, dear. I’m on the roof with somebody else’s wife. Oh lord. Tell her. Leave my nightmares in her name. But tell her, please, tell her I’m done.