One of the things you learn, when you're having a life, is that when you form a vivid mental image of a place, sometimes it can be a mistake to actually go there.
I know a guy who went to Winslow, Arizona specifically because Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne told him it's "such a fine sight to see."
"They lied," he reported back. "That is not a place where a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford will slow down to take a look at me."
"Well, maybe so," I said. "Then again, you're not Jackson Browne."
I myself will never go to Albuquerque, because it lives in my mind via the Neil Young song, and I do not want to go there to discover it is basically Lodi. Which—trust me—is exactly as presented in the John Fogerty lament. If you can feel that, there is no need to condemn yourself to the physical reality. You've already been there.
Sometimes, as with Lodi, things will be exactly as described. Like, in Kentucky, there really is blue grass. But there are also murderous yeehaws who slay raccoons and then proudly drape the corpses over the fences. Driving the back roads there is like traversing the Appian Way after Crassus crucified along it the captured slave army of Spartacus. Except instead of Kirk Douglas hanging there, there are raccoons. Having experienced this horror, it is no mystery to me when the people of that state select creeping mutants like Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to represent them in the Congress.
As a kid I grew up on the many black-and-white movie Westerns that occupied the television. And so when came the day I must needs move through Kansas, I was really looking forward to visiting Dodge City. What a mistake that was. Worse than Lodi. Because it wasn't even there. Whatever Dodge City vibe might once have been in the place, had long fled. I can't begin to describe it. Mostly because there's nothing to describe. It was a black hole, of not-Dodge-City-ness. All I wanted to do was "Get Out Of Dodge," as is said in the song of that name by Steve Cooley, written before he lost higher brain functioning, and became a Hairball cultist. Today, he is the Lodi, of humans.
The reason the people of Kansas send creeping mutants to the Congress is that there is nowhere to eat there except buffets. The steam and the grease in those places retards higher brain functioning. Has anyone noticed that wherever the buffalo once roamed on this continent there now sprawls the American buffet region? The transition from buffalo to buffets is all that needs to be said about the essential Wrongness of white people invading America. When once those buffets are replaced by taco trucks—and this will happen—then the Americans can again get about evolving. Instead of beating on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Which is what they're about now.
Some things are just wrong from the start. White people in the Americas, that is one of them. Another is buffets. A third: Los Angeles. And how do we know this? Because the first building erected there, was a jail.
Moving right along, I know a woman, a sexual adventuress, experiencing many carnal delights, who when in Paris decided to visit a sex club. She hadn't done that yet, and figured if anybody would get a sex club right, it would be the French. "What a letdown," she later moaned. "It was so not what I wanted it to be. I left after an hour. I didn't even do anything." She had experienced a sexual Lodi. And so, she was Sad. I suggested maybe the problem was she expected too much: you know, the French, sex, etc. And maybe if she'd tried a club in somewhere like, say, Estonia, or Bulgaria, she might more easily have entered ecstasy. Not having the French expectations, and all. She thought about that, and some time later eschewed the sex clubs of San Francisco, "the Paris of the West," for a fleshpot in the East Bay—Fremont, Union City, some armpit like that. And there had a perfectly wonderful time. Once she'd pushed the Paris out of it.
There are some experiences that will live up to whatever expectations you may bring to them. Maya Lin's Memorial Wall is like that. It is perfect in form, and all the dead are there. You can feel them. They are telling you they didn't need to be there. And that all of their stories, stopped too soon.
There isn't really any need to see any of the other memorials in Washington DC. The John Glenn space capsule in the Smithsonian, though, that's worth a visit. Because it is smaller than a Volvo. You stand there, and you understand: no one even remotely Sane, would, in any way, be involved in putting a human in that thing, and shooting him into space.
At the other extreme, is the aircraft carrier. Once I had to interview a guy aboard the USS Carl Vinson. Before walking the plank to enter the thing—and it was an actual plank—I stared up at it, from down on the waterline. And refused to believe it was Real. Because it was just too impossibly large. Humans have no business building anything that big. Worse than the Tower Of Babel.
Maybe it was in DC were I saw the Van Gogh. I don't remember the town, the museum, or even the name of the painting. What I remember is standing there looking at it from the side, astounded at how thickly he had applied the paint. Three or four inches thick it was. I understood Van Gogh in that moment. He was there. You could feel him. And it was sad. Because he was not a man easily able to endure the Lodis of life. A lot of the artists are like that. Which is why it is a good idea not to have them in your life. They are always cutting off their ears, and shooting themselves in the stomach, and it's hard to be around that. There is also the Problem that you will get the heavo-ho, if the art demands it. When Dire Straits was a scuffling bar band, Mark Knopfler could put up with his brother in it, but as soon as people started paying real attention, brother Dave got the boot. Blood may be thicker than water, but art/ambition is thicker than any blood. Like, James Joyce may have been the greatest writer in the history of the language, but sometimes his wife and children had to eat paint scraped off the walls, because Joyce would neglect to get any food. Joyce himself didn't need food, as his corporeal form ran on nicotine and alcohol. Provided to him by friends, acquaintances, hangers-on. Because he was "Joyce."
I knew a woman to whom I could never mention Robert Altman. Because if I did she would go off on a tirade. This is because she once met the man, at which time he basically barked in her face. I am ready to concede that Altman was objectively an asshole. But that doesn't diminish the power of Quintet or Kansas City. Unless, of course, he's assholed you. I anyway don't know that it's even possible to be a film director without having at least a little Hitler. The question is how much. Like when Lou Lombardo, who edited for both Altman and Sam Peckinpah, was asked to compare the two men. “Sam Peckinpah is a prick," he said. "And Robert Altman is a cunt.”
In the main, famous people don't want you to meet them on the level where they are famous. Maybe that's why that woman got the barking in the face. Maybe she was approaching him as "Robert Altman," and he'd long ago had more than enough of that. Or maybe he was just getting his usual asshole on. Or maybe I made the whole thing up. Fake news: is all.
Unless you have a syphilitic brain hole, like The Hairball, the fame thing gets old fast. People think they know you. They don't know you. They don't even know themselves.
Anonymity is fun. Once somebody—have I told this story here before? I can't remember. Sometimes it's hard to keep track, of the various apparitions. Anyway, here goes. Once somebody who was clearly looking for trouble assigned me to write a story for the newspaper about this event out at the fairgrounds where men went into an enclosure and there sat around a table playing poker. Then a bull would be let into the enclosure. Then the bull would Attack. The last man to flee the table, he would be declared the Winner. This was a thing not remotely Sane, and so I felt no obligation to confine myself in the story to reporting what had objectively occurred. Because, I mean, what, anyway, is Real, when men willingly sit around a table, waiting for a bull to frenzy? So I threw in a couple flourishes, like how between rounds clowns would come out, to mop up the blood, and toss severed limbs into a bucket. Things of that sort. Which, to me, seemed perfectly Normal, atop the baseline lunacy of sitting at a table waiting for a bull to gore out your entrails.
A couple days after the story appeared, I'm driving around with the country-music station on the radio, and I hear myself denounced as a criminal who should be executed. Apparently there was a blazing jihad raging across the land, to have the story retracted, and me fired. And leading this crusade, the radio informed me, was the guy who runs Diamond W. Now, it just so happened that recently some money had failed to timely flee from me, and so I was using it to buy Lucchese boots. From Diamond W. Because Luccheses cost more than cocaine, the Diamond W guy was treating me like royalty. Because he would be getting the money. At the same time he wanted my head on a pike, for the clown-limbs story. But he didn't know the Lucchese customer, and the clown scribbler, were the same person. The best part was when, there in the store, he paused in fawning over me, to holler at an employee to direct new waves of jihad at the newspaper. I didn't tell the Diamond W man that we were the same person. Because he wouldn't want to know that. It would dash, all his expectations. He would feel, as if stuck in Lodi. Again.
Like sitting at a table waiting for a bull to come at you, some things are dangerous to envision in your mind, and damn deadly to seek and to find. Such, yes, too, is the American dream. That is what Hunter S. Thompson was looking for in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas: The American Dream. He had been gassed by the Daleys on the streets of Chicago in 1968, so he should have known better, but he was young and he was stupid, and so he set out on his doomed quest anyway. And when he found The American Dream, it was a dry hole out in the desert, a thing that had burned down years before, now but "a huge slab of cracked, scorched concrete in a vacant lot full of tall weeds," haunted by ghosts and junkies. He was forced to concede that the real American dream, it was back there in Vegas, at the Circus-Circus, "what the whole world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war," ground zero of "the Sixth Reich," a place where "suddenly a vicious Nazi drunkard appears 200 feet tall in the midnight sky, screaming gibberish at the world: 'Woodstock Uber Alles!'"
Thompson's continuing Problem was that, although he had seen this American dream, and in the Real, he still stubbornly believed there was a "what have you learned, Dorothy?," "real, truly, live place," Oz-wonderland sort of American dream. Out there. Somewhere. And that is why, shortly after George II was re-elected to be the president, Thompson blew his mind out in a car. He could not take any more Letdowns. So he erased his brain. In that way, he could no longer be disappointed, by any more badnesses. Like Van Gogh, he could no longer Live. With any more Lodis.
Dude should have stuck around. Then he could have experienced the Sixth Reich everywhere, live and in person, Circus-Circus from sea to shining sea, 24 hours a day and eight days a week, 200-foot-tall vicious Nazi drunkards screaming gibberish at all times, the all and every, presided over by the ceaselessly meth-mouthing depraved organ-grinder The Hairball, a creature who, in the words of Preston Sturges, stalks the land "a cross between a Ferris wheel and a werewolf.”
Let's face it, the Reality of the American dream, it has always been Lodi. I have long known this. And so I don't go looking for it. I am content, here in my mind, with Albuquerque.