Skipping a bit– weeks later I wandered out of the desert, somewhere near California, where the desert was in bloom; it was properly Surreal, picking round the cactus flowers like Alice in the garden of talking roses and bread-and-butterflies. Somehow I ended up in a city and offloaded the meth as soon as I could; with the money I earned I went on a spree and got through sixteen tonnes of Jack Daniels and 600 bucks converted into dimes, which I loaded into a Tom and Jerry pinball machine one after the other, til I couldn’t sleep at night, the bells went on ringing in my head so long. The civic monuments in this city were restricted to a wax museum showing Religious scenes and a grocery store that the Barrow gang had held up in 1933 (they were still talking about the way Blanche Barrow wore trousers). For a while there I was at a loss as to why these things were termed ‘amusements’ in the tourist guide. Next town over there was a carnival and a shooting gallery; still everywhere I went there was always the same three people, a waitress named Barb, a guy in a trucker cap and a huge, towering man in a black suit and his retarded boy; inevitably the man looked at me and said to his son, “Cover your ears when sinners are talking son,” and so he did.
Finally I got on out to Providence, which is near enough to Shitsville. After 24 hours of relentless rain and drinking, sunlight broke in on one of those hangovers that can teach godless people how to pray. The hard bastard Texas light was coming in through the venetians in strips so sharp it cut my eyes like a razor. It was absolutely airless in that room, but the weight at the end of the curtain cord was moving in perpetual motion, going clink clink clink clink clink clink clink infinitely against the blinds. Then from the next room came the alien sound of some sadist tuning a radio; suddenly the voice cracked out, clear and strong: SALVATION WILL COME TO THOSE WHO SEEK REFUGE IN THE LORD.
“Fuck me dead,” said I. Then stumbling, blind, into a white and wistful morn, I could feel how close I was to Shitsville.
We drove on another billion miles through the unchanging landscape that may have been unrolling like stage scenery, the same lumpy cactus kept appearing. A little later on Billy Bob became quite merry, while the blue faded out from the sky, and the sun set in tattered strips of poisonous colour, he said, “It’s getting dark,” (“Sure is, Billy Bob,” said I). “Sure gets dark out here at night… can’t see nothing for miles… Gets so dark a ni**er could be standing right next to you and you wouldn’t know, you’d just hear breathing… Gotta stop around here then… don’t wanna get caught out in the desert without gas… maybe get something to eat… maybe find a place to stay the night… Motel maybe… they got real nice sleepers around here…” he said, “Tourist camps… Cosy… Don’t cost a lot of money but real cosy… Classy if you like that stuff………………” He coughed. “It gets real cold in the desert at night,” said Billy Bob. “Hell I been out here twenty five years and it scares hell out of me, how cold it gets out here…”
At last we came to a gas station, where the marquee was falling to bits, and car tires FOR SALE had rusted onto the chains they were weighted down with, and there were weeds growing from out the cracks in them. Attached to it was a diner and a Dairy Bell, anti septicked to the point it smelled of raw pig’s anus. As he climbed down from the cabin he was almost whistling, “You hungry, little lady? Could get some prime steaks out here I guess. Don’t often get the chance to take a pretty girl out, always have to be going, on the move, gotta get sixteen tonnes of bottled water to Waco by noon tomorrer… But gets real lonely there on the road all the time, be nice to have a bite to eat with a pretty girl…”
“I’m not hungry, Billy Bob,” said I.
“You sure you ain’t hungry little girl?”
“Sure sure, I ain’t.”
His face fell.
As he filled the truck whistling to keep from crying and scratching hisself, I looked around: a swinging sign that showed a marching band potato with a face and eyebrows above his body, trumpeting about coleslaw; some Vargas girls pinned to the inside of the window, beside a sign for Motor Lube. On the other side of the road was a cyclone fence and some white horses grazing the thin grass on the edge of the desert.
Then I saw Billy Bob through the window buying a stick of withered stems wrapped in cellophane and some chocolates in a heart-shaped box; hell it was so quiet out there in the desert the sound of the cellophane crackling travelled out from behind the glass; Billy Bob was telling the gas man, “Sure that’s my girlfriend out there, my fi-an-cee… ha ha ha he HAW.”
He had a gym bag full of unbelievably precious shit that I emptied onto the driver’s seat, then filled with the stuff in the glovebox: sixteen packets of Marlboro Lights, a shit ton of coke and methamphetamine. Then I climbed down out of the truck, down the other side so he wouldn’t see, and high tailed it across the highway to the fence and the horses, and then kept on going, for miles and miles, straight as a shotgun blast into the fucking desert.
[I have already written the rest of the story here.]
Photo credits: http://www.randyfoxphotography.com/
Billy Bob’s swan song was the loneliness of life on the road. Seventeen hundred miles later (or perhaps it was only the next town) I said, “You got any cigarettes, Billy Bob?”
“Well sure I got cigarettes, in the glovebox honey…” said Billy Bob. A smile cracked his bullet head like it was a coconut. Despite what folks’ll tell you about the charm of a smile, his was truly grotesque. His face looked like a withered monkey, his eyes like peanut M&M’s that had had the chocolate sucked off of them then been spat back into the bowl. “Don’t mind sharing…” said Billy Bob. “Plenty of cigarettes to go around… Just the two of us, after all, out here on the road together… A man don’t mind to give a gal a cigareet, pretty girl like you,” said Billy Bob. “Cosy, ain’t it? Just the two of us together, out here all alone… Give me one will you?”
I imagine he wanted me to light one for him and then pass it from my lips, or something to that effect. Instead I ignored him. I was smoking fiendishly with the fag clenched between my teeth & poking through the glovebox, which was stacked with bricks of stuff in glad wrap, with a lot of holes, the size of straws, poked through, til it looked like Swiss cheese.
“What’s this other stuff?” I asked.
“Well now,” said Billy Bob. “I don’t mind telling you that’s about sixteen pound of methamphetamine, ha ha ha he HAW…”
“…And sixteen packets of Marlboro Lights.”
“Why you got sixteen pound of methamphetamine, Billy Bob?” I had to ask.
“Well I don’t… Well sir that is to say it just bring home a lot more greenbacks when I get to Dallas,” said Billy Bob. “Ha ha ha, he HAW. Not a lot of money in trucking once you count the…
“How much money that worth in Dallas, Billy Bob?”
“Well I don’t… I don’t quite… Depends on how much I kept back for myself, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha he HAW. Don’t get me wrong,” said Billy Bob. “I’m not a one for trucking on drugs. No siree not me bob no never. I been clean four five years now since I got out never even had a drink except once or twice on weekends and at Christmas or when I’m feeling blue. Just sometimes it helps pass the time out here, keeps a man from feeling so lonesome… A man can get to feeling… Gets me down, gets me real down when I’m lonesome,” said Billy Bob.
“If everything’s bigger in Texas, and the sky is bigger in Texas, and the mountains are bigger in Texas,” I said speculatively, “Then I guess the [existentialist] sense of overwhelming pointlessness that can take a man when he’s truckin’ is bigger in Texas, and the despair is bigger in Texas, and the feeling that comes with being absolutely alone and abandoned by god in a miserable place is bigger in Texas… Is that right, Billy Bob?”
“Well I don’t… we don’t use them words in Texas.”
“I mean it must get real lonely in Texas,” said I.
“Gets real lonely.”
“Texas is the Lone Star State,” said I.
“Well I don’t…”
“But the State motto is ‘friendship’.”
“Meet a lotta nice people in Texas,” said Billy Bob. “You sure do. Not a lotta pretty girls like you, though; fact most of them are bone ugly,” said Billy Bob, “Ha ha ha he HAW. Fact is I’d stuff a turkey before I’d stuff an Indian woman, tho not a lotta choice out here, a man don’t got a lotta… Good folks in Texas, but I wouldn’t want a girl like you to be all alone now, out here you never know what might happen, who you’d run in to… Indian folks’ll drug you to the Head Chief before you can say snakes eyes just to get their turkeys a break. White folks gotta stick together,” said Billy Bob. “Sure I’ll look after you, little lady, Billy Bob’ll look after you honey. When we get to Dallas… You never know what might happen to yer if you were out here all alone…”
[Continued next post: Awfully Lonesome and Blue (Conclusion, TX.)]
I sat there a long time listening to a Pepsi-Cola sign squeak like the very devil playing harmonica on a rib cage. Truth is I couldn’t pay for the pie, I was real poor. I didn’t have no money or nothing. I’d got liquored up back of a town hall in Grassville — fine upstanding folks in their spot dresses and beekeeper veils were having a dance to raise money for the Gun Lobby — when about midnight some sheriffs run up and tell me, “We don’t allow that here.” I had to cool my heels in the lock-up there or else give everything in my pockets to the Gun Lobby — they have some effective means of persuasion in Texas, a lotta Western charm you might say. So they took all of my money — but they let me keep my guns.
That is why I had to hitch a ride with Billy Bob in the end; I’d done got in too deep.
In the total of all, there’s seventy nine thousand, five hundred and thirty-five old miles of public highway in Texas. I guess Billy Bob and I drug over every one. He talked the whole time. I don’t know how he talked so long that he did. It was just a real living hell.
“Everything’s bigger in Texas–” he said.
“I know,” said I. Texas folks keep saying that but what they mean is ‘Texas is just a real living hell.’
“I was sure glad to meet you in Amarillo,” he said. “Honey I’ve been awfully lonesome and blue…”
“Eyes on the road, Billy Bob,” said I.
“Hell I don’t need eyes,” said Billy Bob. He done showed me that he could drive without hands; the roads were so straight and empty. At night you could see the silver light of a gas station miles away, throbbing like a spaceship. “Sure is lonely out here on the road,” he said. “Sure get’s lonely, trucking… I been out on the road a long time…” he said. “Not much chance of company…” he said. “Fine company, like yours… pretty girl like you… Honey you’re a knock out… Hell what’d that sign say back there?”
“Did you miss it?”
“No, I can’t read.”
“Last Christian Toilets Praise Jesus.”
“Hell I don’t need toilets. I’m out here all alone, all the time… Makes a man think… Makes a man feel sorta… Ain’t nothing to keep a man from… ain’t no one to keep a man company… Out here in the desert… Everything’s bigger’n Texas…” he said. “Sky’s bigger in Texas… big desert… big mountains… Makes a man feel sorta… I mean a man starts to feel… Ok so I like company from time to time… Hell I’m out here driving all the time, nobody to talk to or nothing… That’s why I stop in the towns awhile, meet a pretty girl like you, nice folks, always meet nice folks in Texas… Sure I always stop back there, chance I ain’t so lonesome, someone to talk to, someone… Hell it ain’t no kind of a life for a man out here in the desert all the time…” he said. “Makes a man… You gotta… You start to… Lotta mad folks out here in the desert.”
“Hell, Billy Bob,” said I.
“Sure honey, can drive a body mad, the desert… being out here all the time… Injuns are mad… Mexicans are mad… Negroes, they’re all mad…”
“How long you been out here, Billy Bob?”
“I been out here, oh, twenty five years…” said Billy Bob.
[Continued next post: Awfully Lonesome and Blue Part 2]