Friday, June 20, 2008

Dazed & Confused: Touring Arkansas

I spent a night next to a street bum with donkey-breath. He had a placard saying "God Is Dead - Nietzsche" and a beat-up copy of "The Lord of the Rings". I kept trying to explain to him that hobbits aren't gays but he wouldn't believe me. Then I read "The Houses of Healing" chapter aloud to him while he slowly dozed off to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up and saw the cat again. He looked at me like I was queer or something. The bum was gone. The cat had this towel tied around its head (see pic above). It gave me this stare and beckoned me to follow. Stupidly (and cursing myself for it), I got up and followed it down a subway tunnel. Is it just me or do I feel like those idiots in the first "Superman" movies looking for Lex Luthor's lair?

Turns out that the bum was there in the subway tunnel and he was putting up some kind of art exhibition together with several other hobos. I started talking to some of them and before long, I realized that the cat was missing again. It'll reappear soon. That I'm sure of, at least. In the meantime, I spent a couple of minutes looking at some of the more interesting pieces of art on display:

The earlier bum that I spent the night with was responsible for this piece. It was a self-portrait, he told me. Howie Lewis And The Subway (did I mention that he's "Howie"?). He used to paint buildings and trains. This is the first time that he painted a person. I stopped him midway through an impromptu speech that he started about how he's a person caught in the middle of the intersecting networks of trains and lives - yet having no life of his own. Usual bum-existentialist complaints posing as deep-philosophies. Deep but not deep - like the Nietzsche quote that he sleeps beside every night. The next two paintings were even more interesting:

This one was done by Gorny-Dork (I learned later that "Gorny" was short for Gonorrhea). He was in Vietnam. He painted this in memory of a friend who "saw the Light" (his words) towards the end of his Second Tour-of-Duty. I wasn't familiar with Vietnam War history. He talked about "My Lai" and "Hamburger Hill". I listened without commenting. Then he told me about how this bloke called Preacher Ray who was always going on and on about Jesus-this and Jesus-that. "He was a pretty decent chap", Gorny told me, "but perhaps not hardened up enough for the fuckin' war!" I nodded. "He should've gotten married to a nice girl back home and became a preach'r or somethin' but they had to ship him into t'is hell-hole..." He came back with his faith dashed and his Bibles burned. Then he put a gun to his temple and blew out his brains. "Fuckin' stupid, if you asked me," Gorny continued, "but that's just the way it is..." I could see a tear streaking down Gorny's face. I moved on to the next painting:

This third piece was done by a drunk called Swampy (nobody knows his real name). He's sober for exactly 25 minutes every day. He's fast asleep next to this painting when I approached. "Don't wake 'im," Gorny cautioned, "last guy who did got his teeth kicked in..." Howie explained that Swampy used to be a Marxist and one damn fine artist. This piece he did was called "Well-Fed Karl". For some reason, he got disillusioned by it all, burned his Manifesto, mixed the ashes of the burnt book with Dr Peppers and forced his ex-girlfriend (who was anti-Marxist) to drink the ashes of the burnt book. The girlfriend was a blonde who had great big boobs - that was the only reason they got together in the first place! "God knows it had nothing to do with ideologies!", Howie remarked. His girlfriend was forced to drink the strange concoction and he collected her shit in a plastic bag. "That's what Marxism is today," Swampy used to explain to his friends, "devoured by Capitalists with their blondes and boobs and shat out into a plastic bag!" The girlfriend got the cops to nab him not long after and he spent the last 4 years in the slammer. I stared at Marxy in the painting for a while. After that, I bade goodbye to Howie and Gorny. "Gonna continue the trek to Mordor?", Howie joked. I smiled back.

I was going to look for the strange cat.

This crazy tour is turning out to be like an old Moody Blues song with all its pretensions to spirituality and meditations. Homeless fucks who once believed in something very deeply but living in a world where ideologies mean crap. What matters are degrees and doctorate theses -don't matter if you don't even believe the shit - so long as you can put it into a book and sell it for SGD150. In my opinion, Swampy's girlfriend's shit in a plastic bag or Preacher Ray's brains on the floor are worth far more than a stupid doctorate thesis. But that's just me. Ain't gonna convince many people in this unbelieving generation.

Where is that damn cat?