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--- R Y A N   G .  V A N   C L E A V E

Pitchless hum of miles pouring past, there's nothing in the Dodge Dart but me and America (with a capital A), glowing like two tequila worms doused with a little Uranium-238, and we're sweeping up the hillsides through this fall night like the golden-red combination of azaleas exploding into bloom; time is our synchrony out here where the humid scent of barnacles swirls up from some unseen sea ever here in the oil-drum belly of Kansas, and we're the only great shape swimming toward lighter water, a sea turtle with rusted eyelids and honeycomb teeth. Suppose I've got a painter's sensibility, that I know a little something about passing a bottle of tokay with wino-artists; what then? The horizon beckons like a purple Elvis velvet painting and all I can think of are the whale-bodied hills ahead and what slaphappy fools we are to plunk down rent each month in the land of opportunity where folks like Packers fans have their Green Bay trailer-sized homes, a hunting cabin up nearer to Canada, and another small lodge in Ellison Bay in Door County where (only in America) you can buy she-male porno next door to where an ex-Amish woman named Mary makes the best almond fudge in the universe, bar none. So it's just me and America in my $2,800 junk-clunker struggling through Houston, Little Rock, Reno, no real trajectory other than away because I'm permanently twisted from bending over backwards to pay for new spark plugs, to cover a Waffle house tab, to pay for these new glow-in-the-dark heelstripe Nikes some Papua New Guinea child stitched together for eleven bucks only to haven them passed off now as hundred-and-ten dollar bargains (blow-out, bust-up, slap-me-if-I'm- kidding lowest prices around!) and maybe it wouldn't be so bad, such a damn lonely trip, if I could ditch the Georgia logger who won't stop with his "Dollar to a donut, we'll see a Hawaii license plate in five minutes," or William Clinton (that sexual vampire) and the WWF maestro, The Undertaker, in all his luminous facepaint, and it's pretty clear that by America I mean everybody's here in my lime-colored, hatchback 1979 Dodge Dart that's mulepathing towards the Mojave like a leviathan eternally hunting for more space, and before long, there's Juan Valdez moaning in his flat ungoverned tone about purified souls and I wonder about our culture and how quickly it's devouring itself in the name of Jesus and the strange religion of capitalism where He With The Biggest Wallet Wins, a shift towards the slippery and dangerous that happened halfway through my frightfully short life. Starving heart tattoos and bowling alley nighthawks, I see them all as I whiz past at 67 mph, and I think "Here's a narrative about Fear, about Inertia," and I don't know whether I mean them or me, but that's the point, isn't it? Out here, in this untranslatable last gasp towards the final frontier, it's all a kind of frenzied, jackhammer second-guessing as I wonder what "individual liberty" really means, and if by virtue of living in the 90s that my one-eyed babysitter (Lynda) who couldn't pronounce "Chappaquidick" is truly "empowered." But westward still, the dawn's ballyhooeing in the rearview, caring not a whit for ballooning insurance, the FED, or sales tax on a pair of velcro-sealing diapers, and I see it blossom with flame, an effigy like the day Vanna White quit "Wheel of Fortune," and I feel it knock inside me like a jingoistic campaign slogan I can't shake from my head-oh, how I want to warm my little tootsies by the heat of those magnificent flames, and in this moment, key yanked from the ignition, I'm triumphantly human.

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