It was the Running of the Poodles and there had been several deaths. Mean curs with sharpish snouts, humiliated by their haircuts, snapping and sprinting along the frontage road while drunken tourists in silly outfits leaned in to slap their doggy asses; it would bring you luck in the new year, the story went, and men and women alike weaved and swerved to avoid the angry hounds. Some didn’t, and even their families did not mourn. You know what you were getting into when you ran with the poodles, everyone understood.
Off to the south was a farm where they harvested wind. Great turbines sticking themselves into the sky–just the tip, they swear–with giant blades swip-swopping so fast that they could not be seen, and workmen atop them in hard hats and neon-orange jackets. The men would take out their dicks and piss into the fans, and the urine would spray for miles and miles. They did not know why they did that, but were compelled. To the north was Mt. Tushmore, which had the faces of ZZ Top carved into it. To the east was morning, and to the west was night.
And everything was America.
O, there were horses. They carried orphans who clutched mailbags, and the ideology of colonels, and the wagons of pilgrims. The horses carried disease and war, and also actors. Famous pintos and stuffed palominos. Some of the horses argued for buffalo rights, and others were just broken. They claimed alliances with the livery owners and the saddlemakers, but did not realize the transactional nature of existence because they were horses.
Trucks, too. Strapped with cargo and with the hammer down, heading towards Pensacola and Cahokia and Schenectady, being chased by weigh stations down the highway. Bandits got splattered by trucks–Robin Hood would not have done well on Route 77–and the drivers would not wash the guts from their grills. Intestines were badges of honors; medals for Macks. The boys were thirsty in Atlanta and speed limits were sarcastic if you interpreted them to be so. Everyone was an Interpretationalist on the Interstitial Highway System.
The Highway existed before the highways. The Native shamans rode it coast to coast in a sleepless and frenzied night; they would tell their tribes what they had seen, but no one listened. This was to be a constant. A man named Bill galloped along the trail as he dreamt up ways to sell the West to the East and beyond. Lawman brothers and gambling dentists knew where to catch the road, and so did the Hoodoo ladies from New Orleans. Dragons shitting out luck behind them. Fighting cocks and jazzbos and so many goddamned buses full of runaways.
And now a ghost cop and an ex-roadie in a 1974 Dodge Monaco.
The car had four doors, two on each side. There were no curves at all: the 1974 Dodge Monaco was made of angles and sheet metal and a 400 cubic inch engine with eight cylinders aligned in a V. The steering wheel was shaped like the diagram of a woman’s interior on a handout your health teacher gave you: two fallopian tubes shooting out horizontally and a cervix descending. There was no air bag. The radio had push-buttons that depressed with a tactile kah-CHUNK to choose a preset, and a volume knob and a tuning knob. The windows rolled down, and they were.
Precarious Lee had his elbow leaning out of the Dodge and a Camel cigarette in his left hand. He took a drag and exhaled PHWOO and leaned his head towards the air blowing in so that he could feel the wind through his gray hair. He was thinking about touring and never getting any sleep, he was thinking about the fights and miles, he was thinking about his kid, he was thinking about nothing at fucking all with just the index and middle fingers of his right hand curled around the bottom of the wheel. He had driven up to Harper Observatory and picked the kid up. Penny refused to talk to him. She was not taking being a ghost well. Precarious figured she’d come around and turned the sedan around in the parking lot gracefully and headed back down Skyway Drive and right on Buchwald and then out to Main Drag that cut through Little Aleppo.
“You gotta piss?”
“Not since I got murdered.”
“That’s a plus.”
“Honestly? I kinda miss it.”
They passed Big-Dicked Sheila’s Hair Salon For Rock Stars And Their Ilk. Precarious waved.
“What about shitting?”
“Nope. No more.”
“Can’t complain about that.”
“Nah. Not shitting is awesome.”
“Pain in the ass.”
“I thought we were going to Route 77.”
“Is there, like, an on-ramp or something?”
“Where is it?”
“Look within your heart.”
So Officer Romeo Rodriguez, who was a ghost, looked within his heart for the on-ramp to Route 77, and there it was; the Dodge Monaco was doing 80 on ice-smooth blacktop with all sorts of lines–yellow, double-yellow, solid white, dashed white–painted on it, and there was a victorious roar and the sky was full of what looked like huge bald eagles, all saluting and preaching and bribing around the car. The sun went on and on. Toads blanched and sizzled. Cactus parched. Rivers swole. Cattle staged mutinies, slaughtered leathery men and their energetic daughters, took the wheel and lit out for the territories. Discotheques opened, struggled, bloomed, blossomed, thrived, got raided by the cops, burned down suspiciously, turned into banks. In the Low Desert, there were camels that no one remembered, and there were hippos in the Neverglades that none of the history books mentioned.
The radio was playing rock and roll music. American music. The Viennese thought they could write a tune; the Chinese had a melody or two: fuck y’all, did you invent the motherfucking Stratocaster? Nah. Back up while I step through here, the rock and roll music said to the world. I’m gonna get a little loud. Stupid, too, but that’ll be forgiven in the fullness of time. I’ll have apologists, you see, and explicators and pundits. Important people to translate me to the dopes. I got three chords, and you can play ’em all with just your middle finger. Can you say “rock and roll?” Can you say “amen?” If you can say one, you can say the other.
The ghost cop opened the glove compartment of the Dodge. There were maps and the owner’s manual. A yo-yo.
“Not the yo-yo.”
It was a translucent-red Duncan that glittered in the light.
“Not the yo-yo.”
Three pencils, two sharpened. Pad. Two decades worth of registration papers. A metal pencil-case with a picture of Tom Mix stamped onto the cover. The colors were fading and vague, but there were no dents and not one speck of rust.
Romeo Rodriguez handed the metal box with Tom Mix stamped on the cover to Precarious Lee, who took up the steering wheel with his knees and undid the small latch. Took out a joint. Relatched the box. Handed it back to the ghost cop.
The 1974 Dodge Monaco has brakes the size of picnic basket, and when they’re slammed against the car’s wheels they make a sound like EEEEEE and then the sedan was sitting idle on the shoulder. Precarious Lee stared at the young man in the passenger seat.
“Yeah. I’m fucking driving.”
And after several seconds, Romeo Rodriguez looked away and out the windshield.
Precarious let off the brake and back on the gas and then there they were again doing 80 miles per hour through America. Through burned-out towns and villages that used to be, through battlefields littered with the ghosts of teenagers, through the rhythmic factories and cyclical farms. Through the perfectly-tied nooses. Through the battered cities and crumpled countryside, and all the barns were red and shingled. Through deadman’s curves and depressive spirals and second acts. Through the whiskey and the laudanum and the acid and the jails and hospitals and institutions. Through the workhouses and Wall Street and the whorehouses and Fifth Avenue. Through the telegraph and the telephone and the teevee and the rockets that would rather explode than beat the Soviets. Through the rock and roll bands and the chain gangs. Through the tenements and the prairie and the plains and the cul-de-sacs and the lake with the kotchas beside it.
O, America, you motherfucker. Show yourself, you secretive whore. I can smell you; come out where I can see you.
“Never seen it before.”
“The States. The whole thing. All of it.”
There was quiet in the car but for the radio, which did not know when to shut up.
“There’s so much of it.”
“Enough to go around.”
“That’s what I always figured.”
The morning was to the east and the evening was in the west. The billboards knew what you wanted and were excited to tell you about it. It was a hundred miles to somewhere and five hundred to somewhere farther away; these facts were printed in white on a green background, and they sparkled when you shown headlights against them because nothing mattered more on Route 77 than where you were going, and today an ex-roadie and a ghost cop were going nowhere in particular except the opposite direction from Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.