One Hundred Years of Aftermath – Gwen Hilton
September 10, 2023
Aftermath came out in 1966 and that’s all we’ve been living in since. For some it was 68, 80, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, or 99, or 2001, 2, 8, 16, or 2020, or, or, or, or, or, or. But that’s not me, baby. I see a red door and I want to paint it black. I am living in the now. My father was sixteen when Aftermath came out. He played bass in the bands. My mom was four. Maybe still just three. She was born on the date of Jamaican independence. When things started to rattle she thought about going there. I like to think she made it, but I’m only thinking about this album because I am Windfell. I don’t remember music. I listen to it. I am 70. At one point in my life normal males were expected to die around 72. Then my generation was going to live to 102. Then the generation after was going to live to 120. Now there’s less and less people. There has been forever. People who are long gone would say there’s always been less. Now there’s not so many. Really. I’m not normal males. I’m not normal anything. But if I have two good years I can let go of it all. I’m lucky to think about music at all. It’s been 100 years and there’s less to show for it than ever before. I live in the ruins. You could call them the remains. You can call it what you want. People call it what the strong say it is. People say it until it’s nothing and then they make portmanteaus with mouth noises to say anything. To know they are. Where I am is nowhere. And nowhere is everywhere except the cities. The cities still exist. The luxuries are what they were. I’m listening to Aftermath because I’ve spent my whole life looking backward to feel any sense of now. Old habits die hard.
After the highways got bombed the world got bigger and it got smaller. Your state was all you’d ever know and that’s if you were insane. One block in a city is a lot of space once you start thinking vertically. Moving vertically. Lives were appropriately considered and valued and then discarded in equal measures. The gamers killed themselves off the rope bridges. Adventure is supposed to be an escape into fantasy. The rural homesteaders didn’t survive. They didn’t stock enough to practice when things got real. To keep themselves entertained waiting for real to get real. You can’t live off the grid without making real compromises. Compromises with your soul. For your soul. You can’t live off the grid. We do, but not really. There’s families and in the families there’s security and there’s a violence you can learn to love.
I was listening to Aftermath when it happened. I used to listen to “Under My Thumb” with my dad. Who’d you rather be? And my mom. The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Sometimes together. Gimme sympathy. When it was just us I’d sit in the front seat and he’d look at me with one eye cocked while pushing his thumb down. After all of this is gone. He was singing about my mom, usually. And he was imagining a past that didn’t exist. The change has come, she’s under my thumb. Just a little drunk driving home with a new guitar to the all carpeted apartment. The apartment where the tenants walk the ponds with golf clubs eager to kill the geese that will attack. It was the good neighborhood. The one I tried to fuck girls from. The one I tried to fuck my friend’s girlfriend from. I tried to kill myself every two months in those days. My life was as hard as it would ever be and I couldn’t bear to live. Ever since death became everywhere I started thinking about suicide more. Never tried again. I guess it’s a control thing. It’s what I can do. I won’t. The way she talks when she’s spoken down to me, under my thumb, you could listen to this too. There’s nothing like it. Lean rich chord strikes and a seductive marimba line that lilts in and out of the ether into eternity.
The dog was a purebred. A perfect monstrosity. Something out of the days when video games had art direction because you had to work under the constraints of the tools. Wide shoulders. Back legs starting higher than the spine arched in extreme juts. Tail fanning the ground leaving a cloud of dust behind it. Perfectly loved. Perfectly raised. A delicate specimen that could last a few hours in the wastes, a few minutes. It couldn’t have gone far. Come from any elsewhere. Golden coat gone brown in the soot and grime, the beast ambled under duress with a smile across its face. Fat tongue pouring out of a wet mouth with black spots on large teeth I could see fifty feet away from me. On its back was a custom vest. Modified. Ready to detonate. A sick joke. Remnants of the wheezing consumer world refitted into perfect deceptions. Except this dog was a wink and a nod. A golden retriever makes a stealthy suicide bomb useless. Waste mutts will run for you good enough. This dog was a sign of gross wealth in a world where all flourishes had all but disappeared. That’s when I reached for my revolver. I exhaled. It’s down to me. I felt the trigger under my finger. I pulled. .44 Magnum bullet from the American days of lead in the 20s sailed through the air into that beautiful bitch’s brain to the marimba line. Bone shunting into muscle into bone into grey matter ringing hollow. The bullet ripped through and out the dog’s asshole severing the tail in the dirt. The dog dropped on its knees. The vest did not detonate. Blood clumped the dust and the fur to the mass. I used to watch videos of screen recordings that people sent me from TikTok. Dogs ate like royalty. In my 20s the floors of my last apartment had warped and bubbled. No dog for me. It wouldn’t be safe for an animal like that. I can’t take the vest from the dog. Caked in all that filthy shit. I can’t take a hand me down from a fucking dog. Even if it is for my last moments. I don’t need a worry token. I’m not gonna clean some fucking animal’s blood. I knelt and looked at the vest. I tried not to disturb it any more. On the neck there was a collar. The collar had a tag. In the city you can get things. Restaurants are open after 9. On the tag there’s a name. Some names are just for yourself. It’s not easy, living on your own.
Money for Nothing
I had some business to attend to in the city. Like Thoreau, sometimes you have to stop living the lie and come home from your walk in the woods for a real good chicken. Money for nothing. Some company from time to time will keep you alive longer. Chicks for free.
The Windfell lived in the city. Normal people did too. The Windfell never left the city. I left because I needed to leave home to realize I had one. I left because I wanted to feel alive at every moment. I thought I couldn’t get that in the city. In the city, my city, Chicago, I used to almost be something. When I was young it was about getting to the city and staying, by any means necessary. Then things changed. Then I left. But I never left. I never left the city like I never left home like I never left a lot of things. I just made some space.
When I got to the city, the first time I got to the city, I said I’d never leave. I’d spent my time outside. Then I left the city. I said I’d never return. So did you. So did your parents. If you didn’t… Well, you didn’t.
In the city there’s communities. Now the communities are real. I used to sit on the couch with a friend I miss with all my heart and talk about how we imagined a community, based on an old book (really an essay) professors were right to tell you to read, built by Hiltons, beginning with us. Condo buildings banded together and set up perimeters. Internal governments were devised. The wealthiest fare best, always living in close proximity to each other, because they were frequently paid mostly appropriately for the work they did. Lawyers build fair systems to raise a strong community for hundreds of years to come. Soldiers add discipline. Psychiatrists wonder. The perimeters are heavily defended. The communities don’t fight. There’s killings in the street. Shootings are precise. Shootings are point blank. I get high off the gunpowder.
People got what they wanted and realized they never got closer to knowing what they wanted. People got what they wanted and realized they couldn’t want again. People got what they wanted and wanted again, because we always want again.
Things became more expensive. Then they became more expensive. Then there was violence. People killed community leaders because they were the closest. You could make yourself feel like they had wronged you personally. Teachers were lost. Teachers were killed. Knowledge was lost. Things had to be taught. It’s different. There were less doctors. There were less lawyers. There were fewer bureaucrats. And you realized someone did have to do that work. If no one did…
Floors in individual buildings became handy. It took a village. People learned skills for survival. People learned cooperation for survival. People realized when someone reaches out a hand to you in kindness that they’re close enough to kill. Not all kids became strong. The same things happened the same way, but it took a tremendous amount of effort to keep homeostasis. People always drink the same amount in times of crisis. Through these fields of destruction, baptisms of fire, I’ve witnessed your suffering. The group of four buildings that was always called a small city made every building except one a pet building.
The corporations stayed. Back when there were nations, well there’s still nations, back when there was America, when I was an American with a nation, the corporations were bigger than nations and governments and gods and banks. They were bigger than anything you can imagine. And they still are.
Freedom fighters revolted. They were clever until they were overpowered. True believers and ironic sloganeers side by side having their bodies painted against each other and the wall. A computer filter cannot discern. In Chicago the last cell to succeed tricked computers with computers. The Headrooms used AI chatbots set to addresses in the Gold Coast to run a script planning a bombing of the Federal Reserve on LaSalle. Rooms and subrooms and private channels filled with one-sided conversations between lonely people unaware they’re talking to only a computer and the script. The script was magnanimous and people watched it. People thought the script, or the scripts, were a group of people that people wanted to be. They were random and sporadic and didn’t give others any attention because they had things to do. They were just a program. The US military acted swiftly and bombed the once historic strip of houses. People beyond the usual fringe radicals learned about the Philadelphia MOVE bombing. How could the government so easily slaughter the millionaires? But now there weren’t many more people than there were fringe radicals back then.
Things stopped working. And people stopped working. Things stopped paying. And people stopped paying. Sometimes the job listings were fake all the way from the start.
There were bars in the city. Bars were always on the second floor of a residential building. It wasn’t worth leaving. People left for the other bars though. You could meet someone and marry into a better life at the local bar. You could go to the local bar to pay respects. You could go to the local bar to expose yourself. To imply a trust. If just for the moment.
I went to meet an old friend. Everyone is an old friend now. It’s hard to accept that. You meet new people and they die. You meet new people and you know that you’ll never see them again. You meet new people and you can’t know them. You meet new people and so many people just become everyone else. I can’t look back. I looked back when I was young and when I was young I thought I was old. I sobbed on my couch when I knew I’d always have a couch because I saw a baby. As if things could have gone any other way. I’m a hopeful girl.
Each bar had a theme. The best bars were in the Loop and the Loop never shut down. When the wealth couldn’t be extracted anymore the rich moved back. Administrative positions still existed and their once luxury became a position of complete comfort. They moved above their offices, below their gyms, next to their drug labs, and two floors away from their mistresses. They passed the same set of billions to each other with the fluidity of whitewater rapids. Wives that learned to love hearing the yelps of the mistress through the walls without feeling insecure enough to try joining became the most sought after Widow Windfell. They knew that the men that loved them still needed time alone.
Trend cycles looped endlessly faster until they couldn’t. Things still settled in the 90s. In the bar I was at everything was blue. There were aquariums. The dance floor looked like DMX’s shower in Belly. It looked like making it. I hadn’t seen my old friend in decades. He was Windfell. He wasn’t just Windfell. He always had it. He was good to me, but it always came at a price. A man that robs you of your sleep robs you of your life.
My old friend had a new woman. Any woman would be a new woman. She was a different woman. The band was playing different music. I used to watch a movie made by a New York director where different people played different music. Everything was red. You couldn’t hear the words on the DVD. It was cool to like all of it by the time I heard of it. But things go away and come back your way again if you get quiet. When the walls went up things got isolated. Everyone still had Spotify. Some had shared record collections. The smart, weird, and lonely left thousands of CDs after they died and some of them still had every song. Sounds isolated to buildings. Buildings rallied around their style. When I was young I read about the Palm Desert scene. It had to be new. It was rock. But it was new. When I was young the smartest guitarist I knew wanted to be Mark Knopfler. When I was a little older the smartest guitarist I played with did things I can’t describe to you. You just have to hear him. J.
I asked the woman her name.
She said, “Juliet.”
I said, “Juliet?”
She said, “Like you recognize something?”
I said, “Do you?”
She said, “What’s it to you?”
I said, “Don’t worry.” My host had placed a drink in my hand. It was a penicillin. The first penicillin I had was made in a bar that specialized in it. It’s the only kind of bar you should have one in. It’s a scotch drink. It tastes like being alive. A wise man told me to try it. At the bar, during the show, blood was spilled. Lines were drawn. Things that couldn’t be taken back were said, even by me. It was the most real show of my life.
The guitarist had a clean sound. He sang. He had something to say. Then it got heavy. It almost got scary. The bass was knotty. The drums went out of their way to hurt. It felt good. It felt like what you knew except every element was eating itself from inside. It wasn’t good enough to be new or great or the best. It had to kill you to exist at all.
My host tried to reminisce during the set. You don’t talk during the set. Or just enough to get it across.
Some things only happen once.
The other Windfell was always making money even in idleness. That’s the way you do it. His inheritance was different. He inherited a business. He inherited a name that can buy the world until it’s red. He inherited the name that will leave him dead. He’s just a man. I used my windfall to listen to music with his business. His business, his father’s business, used to track my account specifically and boost artists when I was in college. I always wondered. Then he took me out. Then he told me. Then he told me things you wouldn’t believe. Then he bought me a drink.
He told me he had been nice for a long time, but he can’t pay every time, and he’s paid every time for a long time. I told him I’d get him back and then some. The band became legendary when I executed my friend during their set. That’s the way you do it. NBA Youngboy taught me that the hit songwriter gets his prey by surprise. Before I executed him he wired me the contents of his bank account. Let me bid you farewell. Every man has to die. When I was about thirty criminals got real wise to the fact that no one carried cash, the rich developed self obsessed quiet luxury looks, and if you were gonna rob someone you had to spend time with them. Four man crews kidnapped people, took them to banks, put guns to their heads and demanded Zelle transfers and repeat alternating PayPal and Venmo transfers under 600 dollars with randomized numbers. They waited by the good campuses and looked for good nails. A woman I knew got kidnapped and robbed twice in the same day. They admired foreign student Maseratis and knew how to talk shop until they were within breathing distance. They’d torture you without leaving a bruise. They’d tell the victim to label it drinks, or girl’s night, or to a good future. I told him to write the phrase personal gift. Money for nothing. He wired the entire contents of his accounts in four transfers. I’m not worried about taxes.
He was only dating Juliet, but his closest counsel knew the business had to go to her. She was amenable to the arrangement. She seemed to be having fun. Another story to tell another person I’ll never know. Any time he took the time to learn a woman’s name it was assumed she should finish the work he started. Hey la, my boyfriend’s back. The show did go on. You only get so many chances. Juliet told me her father knew she’d always end up with an alpha male. I told her she was bold. She yanked the white stubble on my chin and asked if I tried to fuck girls looking like that when I was young. Juliet when we made love you used to cry. You said I love you like the stars above. I’ll love you till I die. My heart pounds to the drum fill. Piano keys like wedding bells. I told her you can’t say that to someone like me. She told me she’s not so sure about that.
We dressed the same. Except my clothes were dirty. When I was young there were uninspired men who made video game fan films about a post apocalypse and their characters never wore dirty clothes. The women always had big tits. People who didn’t know how to appreciate art would flood the comments with a request to consider the actual environment next time. Make your clothes dirty. Like Dead. Now I’m old. And they’re still not the ones in dirty clothes. But We always dressed the same. When I was lying. When I wasn’t. When I was fucking people who were lying. It was rare to meet someone who had the money to care about how they looked and spent it right. You learn to appreciate it. Not just instinctually desire it.
She took me upstairs to her condo. Her condo was large. On the 64th floor. There were 66 floors. The top four floors were penthouses. I had toured places like this once. I had lived different lives once.
Her home was red. Her couch was black. She sat me on it. She had a nice soundsystem. She had many nice sound systems. She asked me if I wanted to pick music. We opened her newly acquired venture’s app. Inaugurate my job baby. I’m a Working Windfell. I put on Dire Straits. I put on “Romeo and Juliet.”
The Windfell had things, but they didn’t always know how to use them. They got things, acquired things, things came easy. Things related to their hobbies, or not. Most didn’t read, but some maintained bookshelves. They liked movies, music, and video games. Art with an immediacy. Every Windfell had to make their hobby their hustle, so they didn’t just like games. They made them. They didn’t just like music. They made it. They didn’t just like movies, some people were lucky enough to have old iPhones and make masterpieces.
The Windfell feigned recklessness, but the worst of the bunch were the same usual rapists as always. They did drugs and made dangerous works and revolted against everything inside themselves and in the outside world just enough to come home and sleep eight hours. Or 10. Or 12. Or stay up for four days and sleep for 36. Most just wanted to live a little after they died. Like everyone else.
Juliet asked me if I wanted anything. She told me she was going to change. She wasn’t leaving again tonight. I asked her to be explicit. She said she had drugs. She offered ketamine. I had ketamine a few times when I was young. The ketamine was acquired in a way that made my friend and I discuss an artist that brought us closer. The ketamine felt good. I asked for hers. She came back with it. She straddled me. She licked the inside of my nostril. She licked the outside of my nostril. She licked her teeth. She smiled. She kissed me. She pulled the vial out of her bra. Her nipples rested above the black lace. Hard from the fabric shifting. Cup folding slightly under her tit. That would drive me insane, but she didn’t seem to notice. It did drive me insane. The vial had a trinket on the top that seemed painful to hide under a breast. She procured a spoonful. She slowly lifted it to my face. She licked my ear and told me to inhale slowly, deliberately. She told me it’s good to feel good. Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start. And I bet. And you exploded into my heart. She told me she wanted me to see something. She led me to a room. It was a closet filled with dresses, sweaters, all kinds of clothes I forgot existed. She told me to try something on. Maybe it’ll work. There once was a man who liked Angora sweaters so much he wrote about them. He put them on camera. He put them on. He was right to. I found a sweater dress. She found nothing and returned in nothing, proud. She put the sweater dress on me. She took me back to the couch. She mounted me. She said it hurt. When I was young the old guys were so much bigger. Now I’m Khartoum to a lost generation. She gave me another bump. Then another. Then another. She asked me if I thought she was so stupid.
I said, “What?”
She said, “Do you really think I’m some dumb cunt? You fucking asshole. You are literally worse than the men I know.” When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong.
I said, “I don’t understand.”
“How you reacted to my name?” She said.
“Like how?” She said. She got angry and I could feel it on my cock. I felt the ketamine running down my nose with her tongue and my snot. I felt it leaving a drip. I felt her dripping on me. I felt it running down me. I felt us mixing together.
“Do you know that play?” I asked.
“Yeah I’m Windfell you piece of shit.”
“And that’s not it. You know how you reacted. And you fuck me like this. And you play that song. And you act like nothing. And you say nothing. You kill like nothing. Who are you?”
“Would it be gauche to say?”
“Go fuck yourself.” She said. She punched my nose. I came. I slacked my jaw. I conked out.
Life is an Experiment
My old friend, my old friend that likes art. Listen to your dreams. He was my smart friend. And he was so smart he said he wasn’t, often. He had an iPod, when everyone had an iPhone. He had an iPod and he regretted selling his other iPod. So I bought three. He said you can build a deeper relationship with an album you own. You listen to it, even a stolen copy, on your iPod, not streaming, and it’s yours. I got that. I just liked the convenience more.
The first album I put on the iPod was the last album that came out during Lee “Scratch” Perry’s lifetime. Be faithful. Or maybe it wasn’t. Be pure. To me it was. It started with a song called “Life is an Experiment.” LSP looks forward into death and sees an afterlife. Step forward. He sees something. He is unafraid. He is confident. Conquer death. On the album art he is shrouded by green and pink haze. He has pink hair. He is holding an iPhone. If you don’t step forward, you won’t have it.
Be patient, be perfect, be pure.
If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. So ask for it.
I was following someone. We were alone. We were in a corridor. We felt alone. I haven’t felt alone in so long. I’d like to know what that’s like. The body starts to turn and it never stops turning. I never saw its face. I stopped feeling alone. I felt weightless.
When you listen to dub music you can sit between the textures. You can feel the music around you. You can feel bass caress one side of your body and snare hits on the other. You can feel the snare roll across your stomach, grooves echo into your heart, and you can get up and move and find out you’re inside a new texture. Trapped in a texture. In love with a sound. Your awareness pulled in and out by fingers on convex knobs pushing into you.
I’m in the jungle. The woman is a tiger. The tiger is a man. The man is me. The man is a princess. The princess is the future. The princess is under the waterfall. The princess is everything. Behind the waterfall there’s another world. Behind the other world there’s nothing. Then there’s a woman. A new woman.
Summer Babe – Winter Version
Every time I sit around, I find I’m shot. When I came to, my vision was shrouded by a head with a faint halo. A woman’s voice coaxed me back into life. Ice, baby. Fuzz with an edge brought me to the now. Thick. Oppressive strikes. Warm embrace. I was outside. My body was shaking. I was a bit bruised. Before I could see her face I rolled to my side enough to vomit. Bile. Drug residue. Blood. A mix of green and red and brown brought me back to Christmas. When was the last time I remembered there was a Christmas?
I looked up and was blinded by the sun. I tried to stand. I stood. I still could not see. I asked the woman if I could piss. She told me that people on the street said I was dead. She told me that’s okay. I pissed. It was thick. There was blood. I bent and hunched. There was Juliet. There was me. Thick near translucent strings peeling off my cock that were pushed out by thinner translucent strings that were pushed out by the piss. The sludge. The good times.
I looked down at myself in front of me on the ground and in a brief moment found peace in the knowledge that I’d made something beyond myself.
I turned. I apologized. The woman looked to be in her mid-40s. She was divine. My eyes stick to all the shiny robes. She smiled. She forgave me. She said it looked like I was in dire straits. I said that I was. I asked for a moment. It hurt to touch myself. It hurt to feel my body respond to my brain. I felt around my body. I checked my bag. No gun, still have my PUD (Personal Unitary Device), iPods, headphones, solar batteries, and no bullets. There was something else. A piece of paper. I touched it, opened it, just to see if it wasn’t a mirage. Juliet had beautiful handwriting. I put the note away.
The woman asked me if I had eaten recently. I said no. I asked her for her name.
She said, “Rhea.”
I said, “I’ve never met a woman named Rhea.”
She said, “I’m the only one I know.”
I asked, “Do you know many people?”
She said, “A few. Do you?”
I said, “Not as many as I once did.”
She said, “I can smell. Walk with me.” I followed. She walked slowly for me. I walked a step or two behind her. I took a look at her ass. Drop off the first shiny robe. You never know when you’re gonna die. I was still in the city, but in a different part. Juliet had help. The Windfell always did. The drugs must have been good. I hadn’t used in a while. I never weaned myself off early. One day it wasn’t available and I was always good at moving forward once the supply dried up. I’ve got a lot of things I want to sell, but not here babe. I’m still alive. I can’t remember a thing about how I got there. I had a good time.
I looked away from the scrying pool in the back of her dress after my vision felt the right kind of right to see that we were outside of the Loop. Outside of the Loop the perimeters got bigger. She walked me through Old Town.
The same amount of people lived in each bordered area. At least at the start. The military presence was the same number of units per bordered area. In the Loop it was crowded to the point of being useless. Soldiers accidentally shot each other instead of the criminals they were attempting to suppress. In the wider areas there were blind spots. Not many. Not many knew them. Those that did didn’t believe they were really blind spots. Some spots are left that way as a honeypot. Most people needed technology to do what they couldn’t so the militarized police didn’t have to be concerned about many. Digital trails like snail slime stretched into the sky too vast for any individual to ever begin to comprehend.
In better years I was most familiar with the Old Town Ale House. It was Roger Ebert’s favorite bar. Michael Shannon was known to drink there. On their jukebox they had the self titled album by Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos. No me lloras más. You could buy the whole record for five dollars. There was Ornette Coleman. There was Wayne Shorter. Miles Davis too. On the walls of the bar were portraits of celebrities, comedians, and politicians. There was one of a blonde gun toting white supremacist naked on a toilet with a pistol pointed right at the observer. I would get wasted with the people I loved and in the back of my mind wonder if there was anything I could do to get pinned against the wall by the politician partial to her personal trainer. I would get so wasted I couldn’t see straight.
I never really learned Old Town. I turned the wrong way or walked a street I hadn’t been on once and got lost for hours. My friend that lived in Old Town knew the whole city. He knew the whole city in the way taxi drivers did. He knew the city and he knew the history. He knew the history and he knew the people that wrote the history. He knew the people that fed the best lines in the books to them at bars and in conversation and in quiet rooms. He knew the people that sat on the sidelines and said you really should write that one now.
Now no one knows anything. There’s no need to know when you have access to reference materials everywhere all the time. Now no one knows anything. Things disappeared. And then more did. And people didn’t know the things existed at all. So they disappeared quietly. There were so many new things to consume before and we knew they’d disappear now.
I used to read the ancient texts on Pitchfork where lucky people asked Stephen Malkmus, the man who hid in his jacket himself, things like what’s it like for your most popular song on Spotify to be a B-side? What does it say about the fans? I used to worship the bands that broke up and reunited. Underappreciated until it came back their way. Alive to right wrongs. It was good to live long enough to be great again. I was always sad that Jerry was dead. It was good to live long enough to realize you should keep trying while you’ve got time.
We didn’t see many people. In the daytime people keep to themselves. People started using peace signs again. They meant it. Attacks aren’t random anymore. Everything has a motivation. Only someone you trusted can make you risk your own life to take theirs. Why did I see that dog?
The city had a film. There was a wear. Old Town could feel lonely in the past. Hungry people listened to the joy of dress coded celebrants at rooftop bars. Rhea had good hair.
Her home was on Halsted where the luxury buildings were. The old AMC New City theater was there. There was a militarized checkpoint just outside these buildings. It had a wider walking room than some of the loop areas. Her home was a luxury building that looked like a column of water stretching into heaven.
Inside the luxury buildings there are restaurants. The restaurants are only for residents and their guests. I hadn’t been to a restaurant in my past three decades going into the city. People like people well enough, but sharing food became sacred again. Hell. I hadn’t been in a restaurant outside the city in the same amount of time. In the bars there was food, but it was only a bit better than the gruel you could get anywhere. Or find. Rotted. Half eaten. It survived and you didn’t puke. It was enough. And when you’re drunk… Well, it’s quite nice.
She led me to her condo. Her condo was comfortable. She had wallpapered accent walls. The wallpaper was nautical and fantastic. She told me to get clean. She told me to use the hot water. She told me to be comfortable. While I showered she put down towels for me. Dust had caked so hard into my skin that when I wiped the mud off myself in the shower I tore the top layer of skin too. What was underneath felt soft. I dried my arm just enough to run my hand on my skin. I kissed my radius. I got hot in the shower. I vomited. I fell over. She heard. She helped me.
I dried off. She had new clothes that fit me.
I thanked Rhea. She told me she had read the note in my bag. She didn’t take me for a dog killer. She asked if I knew the California Kid. She said the note said the California Kid was back in Chicago, but that wasn’t news to me. Juliet had met the California Kid. She had heard we knew each other once. That night was a warning. Your vices are too simple to exploit. But she didn’t fake it. She told me the California Kid was by the water. She wrote that the California Kid was loose. She wrote that she didn’t like me, but she liked the California Kid less. She wrote that when he talked about me she realized the same thing was happening. She wrote that she took it out on me because it was easier, but she had to. She had to.
Rhea told me it’s time to eat a real meal. She took me to her restaurant. The restaurant had wood paneled walls and low lighting. The restaurant was like a memory. The candles on the table were real. Not even in the good days was that a guarantee. Our seating was semi private. She had me sit with my back to the door. She demanded my trust. Summer babe. I needed to eat. She was right. She ordered for us. Filet Mignon. Starter salad. I was prepared to forgo beef until I died. Maybe I have.
Rhea asked, “Who’s the California Kid?”
I said, “Someone I used to know.”
She said, “I know. Who’s the California Kid?”
I said, “A man so warped by his own obsession, jealousy, and desire for perfection, symmetry, and beauty that it destroyed his body and made him see visions of nightmares in every waking moment.”
She said, “So the pain is still fresh. Who is the California Kid?”
I said, “You wound me, Rhea. Before enemies were real he was my enemy.”
She said, “And he’s the enemy of others?”
I said, “More than I anticipated. He isn’t just Windfell. He was rich. When rich was rich.”
She said, “And you are?”
I said, “Windfell.”
She said, “You can tell from what I’ve offered. Your greediest imagination is still an underestimation.”
I asked, “So why did you help?”
She said, “Curiosity killed the cat.” The food came and we ate. I had to go to the bathroom to vomit during the salad. I had to vomit after the first bite of steak. I kept the rest down. When I was done she looked me in the eyes. She asked, “So do you think you’re the one to take care of this California Kid situation?”
I said, “I stopped questioning if I was the one when I kept getting asked no matter what I did to look unreliable.”
She asked, “Are you the one?”
I said, “To choose who dies? No. But can I make the choice fastest? Yes.”
She said, “Come back after you leave if you choose to remember the way.”
You’re gonna tell me something dangerous.
Rhea said, “No matter the rush you’re in there’s no reason to leave tonight. Stay with me. Rest up. Mistakes happen.” I’m in denial.
I said, “I don’t make mistakes.”
She said, “And what led you to the street?”
I said, “Does this look like a mistake right here?” Before you break my heart into pieces.
She said, “Some mistakes don’t turn into anything else. Some mistakes leave people dead.”
I said, “I’m sorry. I’ll stay. I don’t trust generosity.” You see me too clearly.
She said, “But you have up to this point. What’s the difference?”
I said, “Too much of a good thing.” I want to beg.
Rhea said, “Your barometer might be different from mine. That’s okay.” She smiled.
She took me back upstairs. She told me she wanted to take me to the pool. The baths. She liked to swim. The last time I went swimming was when I was 23. I expressed a hesitation. There would be people. She said, “There will be me.” I’m anxious can’t take this I don’t wanna break this.
She knew something I didn’t. The baths were empty. We swam naked. She held my body in the hot bath. She put her hands on my stomach. She pushed her body into mine. She put her head on mine.
When we went upstairs she told me to shower with her. She washed my hair. She traced circles on my shoulders until I fell asleep. Let’s go on a permanent vacation.
Where the Fuck Is My Ambulance
When I left there were no tears. There was no reason to believe one way or another. People just wait. Sometimes that is the mistake.
I wanted to get to the water through Lincoln Park. People didn’t go to the park. Things that happened in the park were always the things that happened in the park. Then there were new things. Not new things. Old things. My body hurts every day. Old violence. In new places. The city had staff watch the park. The staff were unobserved. You can’t hire people to watch the people watching people. These aren’t the good times. Their rule was law. Their whims are respected. Succumbed to. I walked North. I had a feeling that I knew where I’d find the California kid. I’d walk through Lincoln Park. Long snakes in the tall grass.
I walked past the field houses. The basketball courts stayed empty. The pickleball courts are still pristine. Except for the weather. Installed too late in the decline to be worth considered using by the public. The zoo was empty. Some stenches last for centuries. Not unlike Rome’s coliseum, the zoo hosted public entertainment that even the coldest scientists would turn their nose up in disgust toward. Bold men with money paid for once in a lifetime opportunities to fight lions, bears, and even the horrific hippopotamus to impress the sex workers they’d still pay to date with stories. Have you ever known exhaustion? These men funded the sciences until it was realized the scientists had absconded with the funds. Can’t help others anymore. The Windfell didn’t ask about the results because the joy of philanthropy was the giving. Can’t help yourself nonetheless.
I remembered a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo with my father. I remembered him wanting to see birds. The zoo was quiet. The park was quiet. Bugs barely registered.
I was loose. How does one proceed with caution? The overgrowth shrouded me. I didn’t have a gun, but the park rangers didn’t either. At the Fullerton crossing the militarized police gave me the updown. They congratulated me. You’re not entitled to my time. They smiled. Persuasion won’t be met with happiness. They peacocked. Lepers hate deceivers. We haven’t seen a woman come out of the park in years. They watched me go back in.
I stalked up to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and remembered the time I saw a six foot spider web and the beauty crawling on the strands. I felt the relief of concrete. I took a moment to breathe. I looked around. From the museum staircase you could see the greatest sight in Lincoln Park. Two trees with roots so large they made benches grew next to a small pond. The trees were surrounded by bushes. The bodies of the trees stretched up and toward each other like lovers. Branches weave into each other as clasped hands do while others caress the ground and make it tender for the opposite’s roots. Underneath the trees a man was reflecting. He had a uniform on. I could never make it out unscathed.
I approached. My footfalls have always been too heavy. My gait too confident.
He turned when I was near him. He drew a KA-BAR.
He slashed the knife in the air.
I said, “I haven’t done anything, Ranger Rick.”
He said, “You disturbed my meditation. I could feel the colors after the white. I had almost achieved transcendence. Do you know what I could’ve made with the visions?”
I put my hands up. I could only imagine the rage. I said, “Many knife owners get stabbed with their own knives in interpersonal encounters. Most stabbings happen when the knife owner defends themselves. I stopped carrying for that reason.”
He asked, “Do you think you can ever give me back what you took?” He lunged. I grabbed his arm. I yanked him toward me. I twisted my body around behind him. I put my other arm across his pecs. I pulled him close to me. I could smell his sweat on his back. My nose crushed in his spine. I rubbed my thumb across his wrist and moved his arm, elbow first into mine. I used his hand to stab him in the stomach. I tried to pull. He released the knife. I grabbed the KA-BAR. I pulled it from his stomach. I stuck it in the side of his neck. I pulled it out. I kissed his cheek as I let go. I laid him on the ground. His mouth was open. His lips were pouting. It was only then that I could take a moment to realize how beautiful he was. I pulled out my cock. I fucked the hole in his neck looking out over the pond. When I was done I checked his name tag. Some names are just for yourself.
I cut off his left ring finger and put it in my bag. I wiped his KA-BAR off on his uniform. I took the sheath. I put the knife in my bag. I pressed forward to the Goethe monument. The Goethe monument was open. I approached it directly. Bodies rushed from across each road. The shirts were familiar. Bands I knew. Not bands I knew like that. Bands I knew. Bands I got rejected from. Bands I played on bills with. Just once or twice. But two guys were in every band on the shirts. One had died. The other? I’d assume the same. He was crazier than the first. He was indie until he wasn’t. I hated him. He thumbed me. His band didn’t want to practice because they all had different schedules for getting high. My band couldn’t practice because of work schedules. He put out lackluster effort after lackluster effort backed by well funded art campaigns until he was good. Good enough for now. He was always in town. He was gigging. All the shirts were from the effort people got wise to his schtick during. Clunge Perceiver. Indie bands don’t sell thongs. He got into the image of being a metalhead. He went to the gym. He was beautiful in photos. He was almost like Peter Steele. At one time he was nice to me.
His bandmates got accused of something. His other bandmates’ side projects got big. His hired guns left him, because he never really knew how to play. He was alone. He wasn’t getting booked. Even Cobra Lounge wouldn’t take him anymore. One day I found out he was a cop. I googled him. He had shaved his beautiful hair. He was bigger. He was bad. He wanted people to know.
I pulled out the KA-BAR. The bodies around the perimeter formed a circle around me and Goethe. A voice told me to step back. I did. A voice told me the people would not touch me. They didn’t. He emerged. His shirt. His shirt was the one I had. Except it wasn’t. 25 print tie dye. The band I wasn’t in. I wrote one of the songs. A jokey anti-war song about how if we could just shoot the right people… I wrote the one people sang along to. He had a bandolier across both shoulders. He had military techwear pants on. On the shirt was a drawing of a cartoon throwing the peace sign blocked by his bullets. He had leather holsters. He had two pistols. He said, “I’m Lead, and you brought a knife to a gunfight.”
I said, “Do I really look so different?”
He said, “So you don’t need someone to explain how fast a bullet moves.”
I said, “If I do kill you? What next? Do they?”
Lead said, “No.”
I asked, “Do you remember when you tried to sell me Bongripper records at a markup? Do you remember anything else about that show?”
Lead smiled, “No.” He pulled out both guns. He walked toward me. He said, “Gonna drop that knife?”
I stood. He put one gun to my temple. He used the other to push apart my lips. He told me to open up. I started to suck. What worth is having friends to die for. The bodies started to make noises. I looked into his eyes. When they can’t recompense. He pulled the gun at my temple away. How could they possibly protect you? He pushed the pistol down on my tongue. When it costs their own expense. He put the gun on my shoulder. I have nothing new left to say. He pushed the gun down on my shoulder. He stepped backwards. He made room for me to fall to my knees. I hurt. He pulled the pistol out of my mouth and bent down. He kissed me on the lips. He pushed his tongue into my mouth. He said, “I should’ve raped you when I had the chance.” Where the fuck is my ambulance.
More noises from the bodies. More noises from the bodies. More noises from the bodies. Five rush. He shoots four. One jumps on his back. They yell for my knife. I toss it. They stab Lead’s neck over and over and over. They said, “I can’t do this to someone with nothing again. Just leave.”
I asked to take the guns. I had something to do. They said it was only fair.
Brand new Beretta can’t wait to let it go. I tested the guns in my hands. Felt their weight. Lead had inscriptions on each handle. Parsley and Sage.
It’s a miracle he didn’t die before then. When we knew each other he could crush a 30 rack in a night. When we knew each other he kept a harem. The woman he stayed with instructed me to kiss him in front of her. She paid for me to spend time with him. Nothing was said. We were young. I was confused.
I went to his shows until I didn’t. Bought the shirts. Knew the words. It’s not always good to let people know you like it like that.
He had done something not so different at an earlier point. Watched them spread ten thousand dollars on the glass.
He would tell me that I had to cut ties with the people I knew and do something on my own. I never, ever thought I’d see that in my life.
When I did something on my own the woman reached out. I am not a man, I can’t do this on my own.
Someone else had brought me up to her. So I started asking them if they would put me on. Not me. And they did put me on. What I did. Now we in the basement and we working on the phones. Then she told me she remembered we were friends.
I was close. After Goethe there’s the AIDS garden. After the AIDS garden there’s the harbor. Mother, mother ocean, I have heard your call. The California Kid is at the harbor. And in your belly, you hold the treasures few have ever seen. The California Kid is waiting. Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late.
The California Kid said there’s nothing and he’s back.
He was there too. Before. Change for the better. And then he wasn’t. Switching up the angles. I got the last word and he disappeared.
The California Kid is back.
In the AIDS garden there were four women.
One woman stepped forward. She spoke, “The California Kid knows you’re here. Turn back.”
“Why is the California Kid here?” I asked.
“Do you know who I am?” If I was a rich girl.
“The California Kid told us who you are.”
“Tell me who I am.”
“The California Kid said turn back.” No man could test me, impress me.
“And if I don’t?” All the riches, baby.
“And if I don’t?” Won’t mean anything.
“Don’t make us stop you.”
“Is that something you think you can do?” I asked. The lead came running. I put her down. Some things you do for money. Some you do for fun. I could never make it out unscathed. I told the other women to leave. They did.
Sade was always appreciated, but when the eastern seaboard and half of the US was either poisoned, flooded, sank, strategically destroyed by the government, made inaccessible by railway, or strategically made inaccessible by railway, or got bombed the nation got smaller. Lake Michigan became a sea. Sade was praised for her soothsaying prescience with her line “Coast to coast, LA to Chicago.” The crossroads of America had changed. They weren’t so necessary, and the designation wasn’t either.
The sun was setting over the Chicago Sea. City lights. The Loop raged on. Visible across the remains’ great beauty. Belmont Harbor was empty except for a few yachts. And business nights. There was no security.
When I made it to the California Kid he was alone. He was sitting on the back of a Yacht. Two on each side. Tied to each other. I was standing on the pier. He feigned like he was reading while I approached. I saw his neck tighten and his eyes dart. I saw it happen over and over. In stunned silence. He looked up, started to smile, then stopped. He started to speak, “Did you really think, G-”, I shot him through the skull. We move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy.
I said, “Some names are just for yourself.”
No place to be ending, but somewhere to start.
Peace of Mind
I had a choice to make. I had to go somewhere. I understand about indecision. Rhea told me to return. Now everybody’s got advice they just keep on giving. Could she want me as I was? Lots of people out to make believe they’re living. I had slaughtered beyond what she knew. Can’t decide who they should be. I had rejected my Windfall. I don’t care if I get behind. 30 years her senior I’d be a leech on hers. People living in competition. I have nothing to offer before I die except myself. Come a day when you’ll be gone.
If I survived the trek back would that be it? Do I have any other choice? Is there any reason for this to be the hard one to make?
When I listen to Boston’s self-titled I wonder if they listened to Aftermath. I wondered if they sat in that basement listening to their idols imagining a future so brilliant there were spaceships. An intergalactic success. Cars were gonna fly. Shit, boats would too. If they hit the right notes, played the right chords, brought enough energy, they could catapult into the universe. Hundreds of thousands of people locked into a moment with them and nothing but them night after night for decades. Cash hand over fist at times when there were five stores on every block where you could spend it. You could spend it and have some left over. You can hear it in the bass. You can hear it in the vocals. There’s something there and it’s rare. You can feel shag carpet between the toes, wood on the walls. It sounds like hope, like joy, like a chance at something beyond the life you know. I understand about indecision.
Guitars screeching, each acoustic strum a beat in your heart. Close harmonies, rising background vocals, and an overdrive rising on faith. Scholz wrote it alone, overdubbed it alone. He built a world on his own by tracking again and again and again. He knew how he’d sound in arenas when you could hear the reverberation off the second basement wall before it hit the first.
I walked back to Old Town. I made it. Rhea was outside of her building. She touched my face and she kissed me. Take a look ahead. She brought me upstairs. She gave me scratch paper and told me she never knew what to write. It made her anxious to think about how she would squander the paper. She thought that might not be my problem, and someone had to do something decisive before it crumbled without any use at all. Now, I’m going to fuck my wife.