Lethem stands in the subway entranced by the adjacent Hoyt Schermerhorn platform. A long forgotten relic standing timeless and dilapidated that Lethem revives and relives in his daydreams. He’s not there to commute, he’s there for the imaginative trips to the past. He wants to inhabit the abandoned platform, imagine how it used to look, how it used to operate. The smell of grinding break pads, the bustling of commuters, and chatter of business men. Hoyt Schermerhorn as it was in it’s heyday. Lethem daydreams during his commutes and he observes his fellow passengers. He is a looper, and loopers blatantly disobey the rules of the transit authority by illegally jumping the turnstiles from one train to another out of necessity (or laziness) to arrive at an exit. At times Lethem would loop to skirt trouble, avoiding a station ridden by crime. As one would expect from Lethem, he identifies with the outsiders and vagrants, the pickpockets and the loopers; malingerers of the subways stations. All of whom are worthy of suspicion, loopers are monitored by the good, fare paying citizens of New York who expect everyone to conform to the rules or be reported to the Transit Authority. In Lethem’s words “every subway rider is an undercover officer in the precinct house”.
I see a connection between Lethem’s experience with outlaw loopers and pickpockets at Hoyt Schermerhown, the outlaw rituals of the Beat generation and kids who hop freight trains today. A phenomena that is flourishing and both more vibrant and diverse than ever before. In the essay Commodify Your Dissent, the ideals of the Beats are thought to be relics, or at best, adopted as marketing ploys set in motion by corporations to sell jeans and cola, condoms and buckets of chicken. From an insider’s perspective, I say these ideals are violently thrust forward by modern hobo culture. Today, the hollow skeletons that embody the ideals of the Beats are animated and forced to dance in the market place. These skeletons are moulded with clay and a scroll is inserted in their mouths by this hobo tribe, bringing to life an army of hobo Golem. The child devouring Moloch in Ginsberg’s Howl is synonymous with the youth stealing “Babylon” mentioned and damned by today’s train hoppers. They define Babylon as cities, popular culture, society and “the system”. To be a battery for the machine is to take the drug of the commonplace. To imbibe in modern American consumerist culture is to have one’s life taken while still breathing. Some believe that fighting back and retracting one’s time and energy from the machine, is the only logical choice in life, even if their life is cut short by living recklessly. In a world gone mad, sanity is no sign of health.
As someone who jumped trains earlier in life, I know kids who embody and push the Beat’s rebellious envelope even further. Most of these kids are spurred to go “On The Road” after reading Kerouac, myself included. When I was a teenager, I explored abandoned buildings near the train tracks in Austin and San Antonio. In later years I explored buildings and railways throughout the U.S, the swamps of Louisiana, the mountains of Tahoe and most of Montana, the Dixie Beer Brewery in New Orleans, the abandoned grain silos next to the train yard in Minot North, Dakota, an old ice factory in Asheville, North Carolina, transformed into a squat by and for the hoards of traveling youth living out their myths and dreams. During my trip from Minot, North Dakota through Glacier National Park and on to Portland, I went through a twenty-three mile tunnel outside Spokane, Washington. To ride through this tunnel is to risk suffocation by diesel fumes and lack of oxygen, a small drawback to such an amazing journey but worth every breath. Like the loopers in Hoyt Schermerhorn, train kids are snitched on by the civilians who sit idling at railroad crossings during rush hour.
My tribe of traveling vagabonds are obsessed with invoking the old ways, banjos and home made instruments played at hobo camps alongside the tracks while cans of beans cook on the fire. Cassady and Kerouac would Howl if they ran with this tribe. These pseudo hobos defy responsibilities and duties imposed on them by their parents and attempt to break free of the mental shackles that society bolts on at birth. Fueling their soul’s fires with alcohol by flipping the martini glass of wealth on end; trading a stable home and an anchoring career, for a unruly life of wild uncertainty and reckless abandon. Bureaucracy and Apollonian morals be damned, here reins Bachuus and Eris, Dionysus and Persphone. Forgotten children of the underground; a virus in the Matrix, these kids are a modern tribe of dreadlocked, pierced, and tattooed warriors with no masters who laugh boisterously while order is being ground by monstrous wheels of chaos. Like the Beats, for this tribe there is but one life; a fast, gritty, and often short lived one, they believe that a candle which burns twice as bright burns half as long. Many of these lost kids are alcoholics, they use (and share) needles and drugs, have unprotected sex, proudly sport body lice and carry hepatitis. Literally risking life and limb, these sometimes toothless, dirty faced- grinning gremlins cling to wicked mile long caterpillars of steel hurtling from the dead zones of cities into the wilderness to points unknown. “Alive!” they cry!!
When not hopping freight trains or stowing away on cargo ships bound for Alaska, these roving communities revel in urban spelunking (sewer traversing) chronicling abandoned buildings in ink and digital photos that they religiously share on Myspace and Facebook. Every summer these underground communities of self-titled autonomous individuals throw a free dance party in the forests of Oregon and Washington; The Autonomous Mutant Festival. Giant sound systems powered by bio-diesel generators trucked in in gutted-out school buses. Most spend two weeks at this outdoor squatter rave, drinking wooden mugs of coffee brewed on a campfire, they pass around the manifesto of Hakim Bey: The Temporary Autonomous Zone. The New Year finds many at Slab City, a gutter rave near Salvation Mountain in Southern California. For as we all know “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.”
Asheville, North Carolina, 2006, I was fresh off the train and wandered into an art gallery for the free wine. Realizing that I knew a handful of the photographed faces on the walls I found the photographer, and we agreed that we were family, distant relatives bonded by having travelled in the same circle. When looking at the photos of “The Polaroid Kidd” aka Mike Brodie, one see’s a timeless hobo pagan spirit in the eyes, souls, and wrecked bodies of rugged squatters and tragically beautiful girls. For more photos, Google “The Polaroid Kidd” or “Ridin’ Dirty Faced”.
Van Ness and Market- 9:42pm. While waiting for the number 6ix bus to take me home, I hear the obnoxiously loud, garbled rant of what can only be the mating call of the quintessential bay area wing-nut in his natural habitat. Barefoot, what appears to be Charlie Manson’s animated corpse is dragging it’s cola colored comforter across Market Street straight toward me and plops down to my left. He’s staring at me and garbling whatsits and nom nom-ing his tongue, he’s laid on his back- shirt pulled up, pants pulled down. Squinting at me, he begins fingering his brown eye rather feverishly with a filthy finger (I now know what that funky waft was and it wasn’t someone making burritos). His gibberish breaks into coherent speech, betraying his very nature, he tells me “I want yer box, I want yer pussy! I want yer wet cunt, gimmie yer hungry hole!” As he fingers away I see the F trolley approaching, he hears it, gets up and grabs his comforter, he hops in through the back door and grabs onto one of the hand rails to steady himself. I can see people wincing at him.. or his smell. I can’t help but blush and smile at this charming fellow, he really had a way about him y’know? Sometimes I wish a man like that would just take me away from everything y’know? We could run together free forever. I peer up Market to see my own fluorescent-lit chariot that will whisk me away from downtown, this fabulous display of lawless freakdom that just screams San Francisco is merely a cherished memory now. Ah, the one that got away.. and smeared what-not on the fucking handrails of the F train.
San Francisco- real trees, real nuts.
My life as a traumatized changeling.
In December of 2008, shortly after I arrived in San Francisco, I started putting up adds on craigslist to make some money modeling nude or perhaps fucking someone. In the same add, I met my current boyfriend as well as a monster from Japan. I first responded to the monster. He said if I modeled for him, he would give me some fetish gear. A trade that we agreed would leave me with some gear, and him with some pictures. Nothing more. I considered being a transgender sex worker to make money for hormones and hair removal procedures and a castration. People don’t understand that transfolk are second class citzens. Or less. At the least a marginalized minority. Making money anyway possible is often the only choice seeing how hardly any employers want a person that society deems a freak. So I arrange to meet this guy on a busy street corner. To feel him out first. He’s fat and he drove a smelly family van. We walked back to his van and sped off for the desolate industrial district in Alemany where he owned a warehouse. When we get inside to the office, he has all these latex skirts and black lace things set out on a table and sexy china girl bondage dresses on hangers. I started trying things on and I got into the bondage china girl dress with a lock on the neck. With matching hooker heels that also locked. He asked me what I drank and brought me a rum and coke. I later realize there was something else in it, I still have no idea what it was, it was some kinda drug though. So he sits me down in a chair and applies the heaviest makeup I have ever worn. He does it rough too. I drink up. I have another. Leaving the office, we go in the main warehouse room. I’m in heals that lock on, a sturdy silk dress that locks on and I don’t know where I am in the city, just an old warehouse painted white on the inside with heavy layers of paint. We take some photos.
He says he has an idea, let’s try the hoist that’s in the center of the room. He releases a sand bag and tells me to hold on while he gets something. Saran Wrap. I never knew the strength of Saran Wrap before this night. I soon became well acquainted with it. He wraps it around my wrists tight, latches the carabiner to the rope and pulls the other end, strings it to the far wall and fastens it. There is no escape whatsoever. If I could escape, I would be in locked-on 6ix inch heels running through the warehouse district on a cold december night, lost. This was my first bondage experience and I just thought the fear of being tied up by a stranger was part of the package. He pulls the rope tighter and I feel a burn in my shoulders. “Does that hurt?” YES! “Good.” He turns off the lights, except for the dim bathroom light coming from the office. He’s waddling towards me with a camera in one hand and something that I think, was a filet knife in his other hand. He’s flashing me in the eyes. Near pitch black and -FLASH!- Back and forth disorienting me. The booze and drug has taken effect but I am terrified as ever. He says there was a dead transexual found a few blocks away recently. They get dumped out there every now and then. I am waiting for the calculated moment when the fish knife sticks into my ribs and pierces my lungs so I can’t scream.
Everything. Is. Slow. Motion. Smeary.
He’s telling me that I am far from home, that it’s not safe here. He forces me to let him fondle me and kiss me. Squiring, I start crying -FLASH!- He gets aroused and his cock sticks out just past his belly and he rubs it against me and tells me that it’s just him and me in this warehouse -FLASH!- He lifts the dress and slaps my ass. Rubs his junk on my rear. Shoulders are still burning, filthy smears of precum on my thighs and ass, the smell of his aftershave on my just-slapped cheeks. The time I was raped, I found that I could go far, far, into my head so that what was happening to my body would seem small and quiet. Fuck magic trances or new age bullshit about leaving one’s body. Rape obliterates those doorways. For me, anything other than “out of body” was out of reach. I leave for a while, the monster doing things is now a murmur. It’s warm here. There is no pain. I drift away.
The rope and saran wrap ease up and I collapse on the ground. Dazed, I ask him to unlock my heels and choke collared dress. He does. I wobble to the bathroom and wash my face. Saying nothing I put on my clothes and try put the dress and heels in my bag. I believe that if I am calm and quiet I can be invisible and I will make it out alive. I noticed that obese gargoyle eyeing me from the doorway. Everything is smeary and gleams like LSD. Only this is the most horrific trip I have had. He starts yelling at me saying that I’m not getting anything for being there! For being tied up and tormented I get nothing. He charges me and takes my bag and dumps it on the ground shoving the empty vessel into my stomach. He tells me to get the fuck out NOW! I start walking. It’s very cold and very dark, But I have my hoodie and shoes. Why are the streetlights missing? That’s odd. Shivering, distraught, I walk from Alemany to the mission district and catch a bus back downtown. I go to a friend’s house and sleep on his floor, I didn’t speak a word of this night for 2 months.
I went to Chicago to visit my best friend and her family for Christmas. Everyone was all christmas cheer and jolly. Something was different in me though. My experience with a fat man that holiday season didn’t leave me with a gift, it left me with a scar. Something that significantly contributed to my breakdown and suicide attempt in January.