The relative coolness of Hellfire (Houston, TX)

[From Texas diary] — In the big Texas parking lot out front were a thousand blue SUV’s in impressive rows, and the bull bar of every one was adorned with the bleached carnage of a cattle station, sparkling in the Texas sun. It was a hallucinatory vision: the mercury pushed past 104 while in the sweltering blue distance the cracked tarmac of the Jetero Boulevard entrance looked like it had flooded. White light was glinting as sharp as a bullhorn off the millions of windows, and the whole airport (UFO architecture, glass & steel like the Crystal Palace) physically shivered with the turbo air-conditioning, which blew out from between the slightly phosphorescent nuclear-powered automated glass doors. Every time they slid open they buzzed like a byword for iniquity; pink dust and fag ends slid in in the undertow and lost plane tickets flew out edged in frost. The wraith who was scrambling out of the nearest cab was in such a mad rush to get out of the state he threw six hundred dollars worth of US banknotes at his driver for a tip.  Then mid way between the road and the sliding doors his suitcase dropped open so that every item of sweat soaked denim, caught in a blast of air-conditioning, rolled then fluttered like blue tissue paper flowers out across the way.  He said, “Oh, fuck it,” and left the suitcase there.

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After six hours spent in the company of Airport Security the first friendly folks I ran into outside on the smooth bluish concrete were two Evangelists and their folding card table. One had that truly American version of handsomeness which you see in ads for retirement villas and dental cream, far too much hair for an old man, tan akin to a faded sunset. He was the real star of David, had heard THE WORD and come all the way from Zipperlandville to the rocket smoke of Houston especially to pass judgment on thee and to throw the first stone. The other man was frankly obese and looked a bit ‘special’, with grey sideburns and a horse-shoe moustache that glistened with the sticky pink of a fruit-juice popsicle and the kind of Rick Moranis glasses paedophiles wore in the 90s to attract their victims. He was wearing a short-sleeved khaki shirt embroidered with “JESUS SAVES” on the back and arms and pockets just like in Scouts; sweat patches spread from North to South across the vast rolling plains of his stomach like a map showing the march of Sherman. They had set up a little wireless mike and portable amp that lost every fifth word: “You are a sinner! The bible says… in the Lord… and you… sinner…  sin… sins… REPENT or you… IN HELL!”  While the first man evangelised the second man stood proffering flyers. I resented this, after all I haven’t murdered anyone yet and may never, so don’t think that I deserved the lecture.

Houston TX 1946 christie's drive in Cafe

They had also set up a sign that said, “It’s hotter in HELL” in red hand-painted letters ablaze with flames in case you had missed the point. On the other side were THE TEN COMMANDMENTS; all of the ‘thous’ were followed by the modern translation in brackets. The evangelists had rested this trusty state-travelled sandwich-board against some flapping orange-and-white striped traffic-control tape that was strung between the pylons to keep taxis from stopping there, but they stopped there anyway, shifting in and out of an endless queue of millionaire’s cars, crunching a lot of white fag-ends beneath their monster tyre tread. While I waited for a taxi to become free the first man rattled them off: “Thou (you) shall not take the Lord’s name in vain… Thou (you) shall not kill… Thou (you) shall not steal… Thou (you) shall not covet thy (your) neighbour’s wife…” (unlikely anyway as she is a real hag) and so on, although the one about the ox seemed to be absent — a telling slip in a state of cattle-rustlers.

It’s hard to know whether everything is bigger in Texas, or if everything is overdone. When I tried lighting my fiftieth cigarette with the last of the paper matches I’d got With Compliments from NASA out of a dish in the highflyer’s bar, the match flared so hotly the flame was green and charred my fingers when it threw out a light that could be seen in other galaxies. “Fucking Jesus!” I yelped and the Scout gasped, just like an old maid would. Then I heard, “Hark Ye, blasphemer!” crackling through the amp. “There are a lotta fags and a lotta flames to light them in Hell!”

You have to wonder why these people worry so much about going to hell when they already live in Houston.



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