“The Shock” by Kinsee Morlan
Prepare yourself for some garbled stream-of-consciousness crap: I drove 15 hours yesterday. I was in Ohio for a cousin’s wedding. It was lovely — that’s my programmed response — because really, it was a tad sterile. But then, everything seems sterile in comparison to Tijuana. Look up at the girl playing with the Elmo doll. I took that photo a few weeks ago at a bar called Chez. The place isn’t so much a bar as it is a broken-down two-story concrete building that sells 2-for-one drinks called nasty and offensive things liked chinga tu madre, plays death metal mixed with the occasional Portishead for the emotional rockers wearing the Chez-required all-black ensemble and has bathrooms that would make even the most hardened pee-anywhere partier think twice about breaking the seal.
Upstairs, the balcony is surrounded by chain-link fence — to keep the moshing or just straight-up fighting from becoming deadly of course.
So, the Elmo doll is actually an old car battery veiled by a hollow Elmo doll and that laughing girl up there is holding onto two metal bars that carry a pretty damned strong electric current. The guy holding Elmo cranks up the current slowly until the person holding the metal bars can’t take it anymore. It’s a novelty — a semi-dangerous novelty I suppose — and I absolutely love it. It makes me laugh every time I see it.
Television is so goddamned boring. Life in the United States can be so painstakingly dry and empty and predictable and planned. So many rules. We’re always so careful. And while I’m at it, let me just say that I absolutely hate railings. Stairs without railings — which you’ll find all over Tijuana — are so much more beautiful and interesting looking. I love stairs without railings.
The 15-hour drive wasn’t all that bad. Tornadoes in Ohio made my flight to Denver long and daunting, but once I slept for a few hours I was ready for the road. Denver, by the way, is lovely — and that’s not a programmed response at all. The dry desert-meets-mountain terrain will always and forever be home to me. The color pallet is much more muted than the dark greens and grays of Ohio or the bright blues of Southern California, but the Colorado countryside holds an inherently rustic kind of beauty that I’ve never found anywhere else — not even in the old deserts of Arizona.
Nevada was nice. Vegas, as always, disgusted me with its over-the-topness. There are radio stations, by the way, several radio stations, whose whole purpose of being is to play music for those driving 80 miles an hour down Interstate 15. They’re called The Drive, or Highway and they play riffy old butt-rock that reminds me of the guys in high school who wore John Deere hats and shirtless tanks that blew in the wind just enough to see not one, but two of their nipples. I truly cannot stand Vegas. Trump’s golden tower caught the sun and almost caused me to run into the concrete median. Screw you Mr. Trump.
The towns just outside of Vegas, though, those towns are cool. There’s one place — and I can’t, for the life of me, remember the name…Baker maybe — that’s nothing but gas stations, fast food places and an RV joint/truck stop/restaurant called Mad Greek, a well-marketed roadside attraction whose owners must pay tons more for their dozens of billboards than they do for the actual building itself.
Utah — I forgot about Utah. Utah snowed on me. I grew up a snowbaorder in the mountains of Colorado but always meant to make it to Utah for what I’ve heard is some pretty killer powder. Utah is part red-rock Mars, part rolling-hill Americana — I dig it for its strangeness. Mormons aren’t bad…they’re just silly.
And California. Ah California. It really isn’t at all like the middle of the country. It’s not even an estranged uncle or a red-headed stepchild. California is a surfer who reads too much. California is a hippie who drives a Volvo, a CEO who shops at Whole Foods, an OC kid who uses words like “like” while describing the finer points of existentialism and an over-medicated psychoanalyst who secretly loves scratching his own dandruff — it’s all those things rolled into one. It’s one giant burrito that I love to sink my teethe into, but I can’t do it every day. Too much of California would make me as soft as a burrito filled with fries and beans.
While I was driving for 15 hours in my new car with a broken CD player, I listened to my good friend NPR. Ten thousand people were killed in an earthquake in China while my wheels spun across the United States. Thousands more suffered in Burma post-cyclone. And a few dozen picked up the pieces after the tornadoes ripped across the Midwest.
But those stories didn’t touch me. They can’t. I can’t let them. If I let myself feel the sorrow of all those deaths I would collapse.
What touched me was the story about Nuala O-Faolain, an Irish journalist, author and feminist who died May 9. After listening to old interviews with Nuala I decided that, if I ever squeeze a kid out from between my thighs and the kid happens to be a girl, I’ll name her Nuala.
Nuala is my homegirl. She always wanted a normal life — husband, kids, house and all of that — but life didn’t work out for her that way. She was probably infertile — she wasn’t quite sure, but her years of unrestrained, unprotected sex unofficially confirmed her suspicions — and she ended up falling in love with both men and women.
What I really liked about Nuala was how she talked about her impending death from inoperable lung cancer. She quite honestly said it sucked. Life sucks because of death. Knowing — really knowing — you’re going to die isn’t easy to deal with at all when you’re a rational woman who treats Heaven and Hell like the cute little stories they are. All Nuala could say was that she hoped she got to say goodbye to everyone and that death would come to her when she was alone, so she could deal with it alone. That’s the way it should be.
Death, like the important parts of life, have to be dealt with alone. Nuala reminded me of that. She said most men and women fill themselves or give themselves meaning by getting married and having children. They make raising the children the purpose of their lives. That’s fine. Respectable even. But what about those of us who can’t or won’t have kids? What the hell are we here for? Nuala decided to be a writer and gave her funny, brutally honest yet magically poetic voice to thousands of people like me who needed it. We need to hear that we’re not alone every once in awhile, especially after being surrounded by white people in Ohio who have been doing the same thing for hundreds of years and will do the same thing for hundreds more. Grow up. Go to school. Get a job. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Retire. Die.
I’ll most likely do the same, but at least I pretended otherwise even if but for a moment.