Monday, April 4, 2011

"The Graveyard"

  I’m standing in the ruins of the Woodland Carbarn Fire of 1975.  35 years ago, 60 trolleys had been licked and consumed by hungry flames, and now I’m leaning against the side of a particularly destroyed trolley and listening to the metal creak like my grandmother’s metal knee did when she went up the stairs. The sides of the trolleys are coated with orange rust that seems to catch on fire at sunset.  I step inside one of the trolleys and sit in the decrepit driver’s seat. It feels good to me.

“All aboard,” I say to myself. “Pardon us, there’s going to be a delay, yes folks, a 30 minute delay, please stay in your seats, now.”

        Light flickers. I watch it glint off of broken bottle glass, shards of trash that once had a use, probably. Coca-Cola 1986. Someone could have recycled it, like in Vancouver, where the city pays the bums to collect trash off the streets. The bums get a little money for food or their drug of choice, and the city gets clean streets. In West Philly nothing’s clean. That’s why I come here, to this wasteland. To abandon the entrapments of artifice and see things as they are.

        My favorite thing about this old trolley depot is that nothing pretends to be what it’s not.  It’s a giant heap of trash, and nobody disputes that fact, unlike how some people advocate the worth of the suburbs, which essentially will become wastelands when U.S. stops having one of the world’s highest GDP’s and the bourgeoisie can’t commute to work anymore, because the car’s broke and gas don’t come cheap. But me, I’m a step ahead. I already know what’s coming and I don’t have a mind to stop it. I figure human civilization is like a Bell-Curve. You reach the apex, and then you descend. Exponentially.

I sit back in the driver’s seat and watch the last rays of the sun illuminate the dust particles in the air. I wonder if this place has ever been more beautiful than it is now.   There’s exactly 60 trolleys waiting for burial or cremation in this graveyard. Their headlights are like dead eyes, staring me with empty neediness.

Don’t you worry, I say to them silently. I’ll give you peace.

My phone vibrates against the metal seat.

“Hey Sam,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I got the can of gasoline.”
“Yeah. When you want it?”
“Never been a better time than now.”
“Oh yeah? Where you at?”
“The graveyard.”
“What the fuck? Someone die?”
“Yeah my mom. No Sam, I’m at the old trolley depot. Bring the stuff to me and I’ll give you extra.”
“I’m not your deliveryman, get that straight.”
“You won’t regret it.”
“I don’t regret anything.”
“Then stop talking and start driving.”
“Christ…all right. You owe me.”

I snap my phone closed. It’s 4:54 P.M.
The problem with numerology is that any number can seem special. It’s the numbers like 3, and 7, and 13 that communally freak people out. Makes me think we’re all connected by one human subconscious that’s protecting and hurting us all. We can’t get to truth because our mind can’t handle it so our subconscious acts like an all-knowing bubble to protect us from whatever’s out there, whatever it knows we can’t handle. But I know it’s there. Skeleton in the closet. And that’s why I’m here, tonight, that’s why he’s coming with the stuff.  Yeah, these trolley bones. They need to be laid to rest, just like my consciousness.           

I close my eyes and a flood of images washes over the inside of my eyelids. Sparks of imagination gone wild but beautiful in a strange, sick way. Talked to my friend about it one day and she said it was something called lucid dreaming, because I can manipulate the images into a storyline without fully controlling them. It happened to me in class one time. I was hung over and sick and we were talking about the gruesome Mt. St. Helen’s eruption of 1980, so I closed my eyes. Before I know it, my Catastrophic Geology prof was asking me if I wanted him to escort me down to Health Services. I laughed, because you know something must be wrong with you if your professor who’s morbidly obese and teaches students how the world is going to end offers to take you to Health Services. The world’s funny like that.

Sam’s 1987 Buick Regal pulls up into the trolley graveyard. It rattles and quakes like wheezing man, poor and old but still Regal. We weren’t born poor. Life just happened that way.

Sam walks towards me with that open gait he’s got. I watch his shadow transfer from side to side of the trolleys in the sunset. He was always better built than me; more robust, his jaw more defined. His body has an effortless content about it, but I’m lean, lean and hungry. I feel hunger in a way Sam will never understand.

“Man,” Sam says, “that’s the first time I seen you in a driver’s seat, eh?”
I climb out of the trolley and step onto the trash-strewn dirt of the graveyard.
“Aw shut it, that’s because I usually ride suicide-style.”
“Nice day,” he says. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
“Red sky in the morn, sailor be warned,” I say.
Sam opens the trunk.
“Just look at this,” he says. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
I walk over and look down into the trunk at a can of gas.
“Unbelievable the Regal didn’t blow on the way here,” he says. “Whole way here I was thinking of how I’d better drive careful just this once.”
“Pedestrians and good drivers everywhere offer you their thanks.”
Sam shifts his weight to his other foot.
“Yeah. You know you could go to jail for this, right?”
“I know.”
“So why are you doing this?”
“Do you analyze the song of a bird, Sam?”
“Exactly. You just appreciate the melody for its beauty.”
Sam looks away, squints into the light of the sun.
“You’re not making any sense,” he says.
“It’ll make sense…in time. You know, I read this article about the world’s oldest woman and she said the only things she regrets are the things she didn’t do.”
“Yeah, whatever. Just don’t put me down as your accomplice.”
“You’re in the clear. I got an alibi and everything for you. Just talk to Jessica.”
I pull my wallet out from my back pocket.
“How much you say it was?”
“Oh, around $15.”
I hand him a $20.
“The five’s for bringing it here. Thanks, by the way. I couldn’t have carried a huge can of gasoline on the train without getting a fine.”
“Right. You sure you want to do this?”

I don’t answer him. We both look away, into the horizon, where the sun is sinking into the piles of trash. Buildings resonate like major chords in the distance. I can almost hear center city humming, but here, it’s quiet except for the sound of our own breathing.

He kicks the 1986 Coca-Cola bottle towards the trolley I was sitting in.  I watch it roll towards the foot of the trolley and spin in place. Spinning, spinning, round and round, defying gravity all on its own…no, no, my eyes are just closed. I flick them back open.  Sam looks at me, and then gestures back to the Buick. He hands me the gas can.

“I gotta go man,” he says, “but whatever you’re doing…”
“Don’t worry about me,” I say. “Life’s too short. Say hi to Jessica for me.”
“Yeah. Sure I will.”
Sam turns the keys in the ignition and the Buick rattles back to life. The headlights glare on, illuminating the graveyard of trolleys in a flood of synthetic light. It seems almost sacrilegious to me compared to the natural dying rays of the sun. Sam’s car pulls away and convalesces back onto the paved road a half-mile away.
He’s safer out there, I think, with the rest of the people who believe in artificial life.

It’s getting dark, really dark, because out here in the graveyard the streetlamps broke years ago and nobody cared to repair them. I wrest the top of the gas bottle open.

When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, 57 people were killed and 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were demolished. More importantly, miles and miles of woodland were destroyed. The whole ecosystem turned to ash. Nobody thought that the wildlife could recover from such a catastrophic event, or if it did, it would take a lifetime. But in only a few years, plants were growing back, animals frequented the area, and fish somehow returned to the lake nearby that had been nothing but an underwater wasteland. How did the fish get there? No one’s quite sure, but they’re there. Our human subconscious knows, it’s just too afraid to admit the truth to us.

I’ve trailed the entire trolley graveyard with highly flammable gas. The orange rust of the trolleys has a wet glimmer to it now, and the driver’s seat of the trolley I sat in is dripping with fluid.  The 1986 Coca-Cola bottle is filled with liquid once again. The ground feels sticky, ready. I take off my white tee, rip off a section and wrap it around the head of the Coca-Cola bottle.  I immerse the cloth in petrol and take a box of industrial-sized matches out of my pocket.

“To regeneration,” I say.

And then I throw the flaming Molotov cocktail as far as I can throw and watch the graveyard burn.

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