Friday, August 24, 2012

A Day of Purple Witch Tits, Part 3

robert langellier

You see, you know, right, once your head stars a-baking and your whole legs get aching and cranking, then everything gets weird. The, uh, the air’s getting pretty hazy, see those milky puddles of heat on the road up ahead, sweet desert mirages, they must be Champaign…or Decatur…almost there. Brain is boiling, roiling, churning, kind of disintegrated I think. And so now it’s no thoughts, just sounds and perceptions lighting off my now sensitive senses—VROOM—dynamite blue—and it’s not painful, just a trip. Out goes critical thinking, and it’s a wonderful thing when that happens, when you’ve lost the sheer ability to analyze and meditate, just to be an animal for a while, and no more playing god, and being a human is somewhere between the two—VROOM. A car pulls up by.

“You need a ride, friend?”
Sheeit no, no, I’m doing something here. “Nope!”
“You sure?”
No, no, no, no. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Alright.” A sweet bastard with a comfy buncha seats speeds away—VROO—

—and Illiopolis! The halfway point! right on schedule—

—Boy, oh, boy, ow boy. It’s a good time for some water, no, sunscreen, yeah. Round the corner, hey a turn! and two more hours before the next one. Take a rest. Little highway sign dinky little shade, gives enough shade for just my head, body’s cooking in the hard dead prickly weed grass. No, keep on! Pretty soon I’m singing to myself, singing some crazy ones, making stuff up, then “On the Road Again,” then some modern pop standards “I used to ruuule the world…” Down below the purple witch tits are glowering at me, like, “Have you replaced us?” “Yes, tits, I’m with I now.” And they reach out and touch me with longing knobs, so I just walk pow in the middle of the road, there’s no cars for days, whew. And here now I’m trying accents, talking to myself in Russian, British, Aussie, French, everything I can think of, mixing them up, too—“Vat do you vant, mate?”—and I’m the most ridiculous thing walking down the road sputtering nonsense to myself like a loon. If they saw me I know they’d lock me up, because oh goddamnit I’m crazy.

“Man, I’m going crazy out here!”
“It’s okay!”

I wonder like always what time it is. I’ve still got hours to go, I know that much, but I’m real beat. But it’s okay, I’m running on sensations now, burning along in some crazed frenzy. I take my sunglasses off and the world simply *explodes* with light like a Claritin commercial, yes, just like that. I need cleaner glasses. God, it’s a real wash of light, an electric jolt, and it’s the only way anything changes around here is to put a different color of light on it—the only way anything changes—whoo...

And VROOM—(here goes a movie scene)—goes my friend Eliot’s car past me. He’s on his way back from a trip to Oklahoma right now, interesting place to vacation. Weird he’s out here on Old 36 by Illiopolis, that’s strange. I call him.

“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....Yeah, I was wondering if you could give me a riiide….Oh……….Oh, okay, yeah that’s fine…I was just thinking maybe there was a chance you’d be driving your car on Illinois Old 36 somewhere between Illiopolis and whatever the FUCK town comes after it, turn your car around and come pick me up!!”

Man that sure rolled off the tongue, ohhh it felt good to say! so I fake hang up the fake call and take my phone back out of my pocket and do it again. 

“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....Yeah, I was wondering if you could give me a riiide….Oh……….Oh, okay, yeah that’s fine…I was just thinking maybe there was a chance you’d be driving you car on Illinois Old 36 somewhere between Illiopolis and whatever the FUCK town comes after it, turn your car around and come pick me up!!”

You see, I’m a movie star, and I have to get this line just right for my audition, and I just can’t get it perfect. It’s gotta be articulate, natural sounding, energetic, with a big crescendo up to the last line, the big cathartic climax, so powerful I thrust my body and swing my arms in a way that can be seen by cell phone satellites and transmitted into the other receiver and understood by the actor who plays Eliot. It’s such a long line, sucks out my breath, and for an absurd half hour here I am in the middle of the universe belting out these sentences over and over and miming my phone to my ear.

“Heyyy, man, how’s it going?....”

I liked to imagine that walking is like running…cyclical…where you wear yourself down to hurting and if you keep at it you’ll eventually circle back to 0 and hit your second wind, your runner’s high. In reality, walking is just a straight vertical line, a constantly depleting line, and when you hit 0 it’s not the start of something beautiful anew, you just stop walking or go into the negatives. It doesn’t ever get better as I’ve been telling myself repeatedly since noon.

(((There is one truly rejuvenating grace in the world, and he drives a pickup truck, stops next to me coming from the west, and blesses me:

“I saw you when I drove by earlier, I thought you needed some water. Got a couple ice cold ones right here for ya.”
“What! Wow, that’d be incredible. Thank you so much, man, you’re a lifesaver!”
“No problem, take care,” and oh for a moment I believe in god or at least his guardian angels. I take down a whole bottle of Aquafina right away—my own water has looong since run warm—till I think I’ll puke. For the next five minutes I must say “wow” fifty times out loud in wondrous gratitude.)))

And then the cold water is gone, it was only a moment in time. In another half hour the water man is a memory, a dream, a hallucination. Perhaps something that happened in a past life. ……

This is the longest I’ve ever gone without anything to send my undivided attention to. For once I wonder if that is not some modern industrial age trivial dependency, if that is really some inherent animal need. I don’t know. I don’t know I DON’T KNOW. But it hurts now, I’m starting to hurt a lot, and there is that to focus on…

So I’m not crazy anymore. You go crazy when you don’t have anything to focus on. Now there is unimaginable pain. Every part of me is on fire from the sun. My legs are a different color. My calves are burnt. My muscles and joints are screaming. My eyes don’t open all the way, my body is soaked. Every step is an entire day’s workout; I feel freshly horrible with each one. There isn’t a moment I don’t think that my body will collapse at any second. Crumple to the ground. Die. Blow away with the sand. I am obliterated. My pack is heavy, very heavy now, and it’s killing, cutting, drilling into my shoulders. The water, the food, the supplies, it’s too much, too heavy.

My friend Bridget once told me that torturing small-brained sentient creatures is worse than torturing a healthy human, because the mental capacities of those animals is such that their entire beings, everything they know and believe in and understand, is searing unending pain as long as it envelops them. There is no dream of escaping, no family to think of, no god, no happy memories—it is a universe of pain.

Around me is all this horrible, twisted land, world of mirrors where you never know where you are, because you’re never anywhere at all, just in the double reflection of the place you were before. I look back and see a water tower that was there an eternity ago, slightly larger. I see ahead a cell phone tower that has been there as long as I’ve been alive, always the same size. On this kind of trip you will learn to hate tall things. There is no way out of it, the mirror shoots forever. Decatur is no more than a knot in my throat. Champaign may as well be somewhere I go when I die, I will never reach it elsewhere. By now I’ve abandoned the notion of it entirely. I came out here for solitude, which apparently is no better than any other drug in excess. I sit down in the grass and let out a whimper. I am miserable. The ground is hard. 

I decide to hitch home. I try thumbing in both directions, because I don’t care which direction I’m going, as long as I’m somewhere where there are buildings and shade. Of course, now that cars see that I’m clearly in need of a ride—I’m limping, or sitting down, thumbing—they avoid me like I’m breathing an airborne HIV virus. Eventually I have to give up, and I straggle on in the sun looking for any kind of shade—a gutter, a culvert. I have to stop every 10 seconds or so to sit down, so the progress is brutally slow, but, dragging my feet through the purple chicory weeds, I eventually after some agonizing time reach the next little town, just a few houses as far as I can tell—Harristown, just 5 miles outside Decatur, where I would’ve rested the night and made it to Champaign tomorrow. The first one on the right has a lawn, a real lawn, and a mid-size oak in the front yard. From down in me comes a little choking sob. I’ve done it. I sit down by the oak, make some calls, “Come pick me up.” Looking east, I can see the shimmering mirage of light dancing and refracting on the highway, and I let my head fall back, and I wait for a black Nissan to appear through the haze…almost there.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Day of Purple Witch Tits, Part 2

robert langellier

Sometime around noon I sit down aside a grain silo to eat lunch. A banana, an apple, a cherry Kashi granola bar, a little bit of green Gatorade leftover from work yesterday. I’d say more around 11:45, actually, because it quickly becomes a race between my desire to eat slowly and my lust for fast dissipating shade. This is the town of Dawson. The silo is the first thing I reach in the town, but I think I can see the other side. It’s so quiet. There is the quietness of the road, undercut by the low rumbling of fast distant cars, which swells and wanes with such frequent consistency that its roar is swept back into the unconscious fabric of silence. Then there is the quietness of this town—a real lonely silence, one that feels either peaceful or dead. I don’t know that anyone even lives here, maybe it’s one of those towns where people come to work and leave at 5 to go back to their families somewhere else. I wonder how the town is at night, if it even exists, or if it is simply sucked away into some infinite spinning nothingness until the first 1998 rusting red pickup pulls up for work at 5 in the morning and it snaps back to slow-decaying reality. Across the road and down a ways I hear a man and a woman bickering, so I look up, but I don’t really hear them, I see them as forms moving and shifting in the heat of the high noon, but their sounds are lost to my true ears sitting there under the silo—I just watch them, and just like that they are gone again, spinning into infinite nothingness somewhere. Strange rural town bugs crawl around me, as foreign-looking as the people. They are desperate just like me for the shade, although I don’t think they know my pain, for I’ve just been five hours without it. 

Dawson is too lonely. I need to get out and keep moving. Not that the road is any less lonely. I think that is the silly thing about being a traveler—he's no more than a sad failure to settle. I believe any person wants to settle deep down, no matter what they say. People want to be in the best place for them and they want to be happy, simple as that. Why would a traveler go someplace if he didn’t think it was the best place for him, in some way? And then that changes, and he’s not happy anymore, and it’s off again. Maybe travelers set the bar too high, maybe they need to learn to compromise and sit still a while. Then again, maybe all people are travelers, and the great majority of people got unhappy a long time ago when they settled, and now they’re just convincing themselves over and over and over again I am happy I am happy I am happy. So maybe the travelers and the settlers are both unhappy, I don’t know. All I know is travelers are unhappy. So maybe I should stay in Dawson a while…but I’m losing time.

In a minute I’m out of Dawson and back on the road. (“Want a ride somewhere?” says a pickup. “It’s hot out today.” “No…” and it gets harder to say so each time…)

You’d think, maybe from seeing Castaway or reading “Far Side” comics, that it takes weeks of isolation before you go crazy and start talking to volleyballs. In reality, it’s about 5 hours. Maybe the blazing sun boring into my scalp through my Sox cap doesn’t help, maybe it doesn’t help that the general scenery has changed less than it does in a Cormac McCarthy novel, but I find myself chatting me up like I’m an old friend.

“Man, this walk is sure taking a long time.”
“No kidding,” I say. “I think my feet are starting to hurt.”
“Good thing we decided on shoes!”
“Yeah, that’d’ve sucked. WHOO IT’S HOT!”
“I can’t wait to get there,” I say. “Mmm gonna be good.”
“Champaign, AiiyyAH!!”

I like me. I’m kind of goofy, sort of a character. I get along with me well, and I kind of remind myself of my friend Conor. I only wish I had more to talk to me about, but this landscape has really worn my capacity for critical thinking down to a stub. I guess I can not think at all, it’s what I’ve been doing for most of the trip anyway. 

I decide not to talk about the landscape, just observe it. I and I remain silent for a while in sort of awestruck appreciation for the sheer beauty in emptiness. Just like white can be the most powerful color in a painting, so can Illinois’ utter flat blandness be translated into unabridged beauty. If each acre of view added a set amount of beauty to the final sum of a landscape, then Illinois would be the prettiest state in the country next to Kansas and Nebraska. Provided you are able to see over the corn, you can almost make out Indianapolis ahead of you and Kansas City behind you. There’s something undeniably evocative about Midwestern farmland. Maybe it was planted in our blood by 18th century expansion brochures, or the Homestead Act, but it’s there, the feeling of unwritten potential on a blank tilled slate, the infinite infancy of American cropland. Coming from above: the warm blue and white of placid skies, the dark green of distant trees (all classic oak and maple), the golden brown of crops, the bright verdancy of the grass at my feet, and the reflection of all colors, the black of the road pining away to other skylines. 

And the purple witch tits. 

A purple witch tit—the name I’ve assigned this shit plant—is a ubiquitous indigo flower that resides along the edges of Illinois highways. Why it grows solely within twenty inches of the roadside I have yet to come up with a reasonable answer. I doubt very much that paved asphalt provides many essential nutrients to purple witch tits. Perhaps, I think to myself, all the water runoff from the highway on rainy days catalyzes their growth. I don’t buy into that theory because a) a marginally higher intake of water doesn’t justify the sheer explosive dominance of healthy, strong little purple witch tits and b) if it did, then other plants would benefit too, and we’d have jungles thousands of miles long and twenty inches wide along every highway in America. But we don’t; we have only purple witch tits, and it is my personal dark conspiracy that some generous asshole planted them everywhere for our 70 mph visual pleasure, because yes, at 70 mph filtered through bug gut centimeter-thick glass, purple witch tits are absolutely splendorous additions to the landscape. Children learning colors and boring suburbanites can be entertained for minutes on end by highway bookend color streaks, pretending on their way to Podunk that they are flying in between landing strips on the violet runways of Aubergine Airlines. I can just see some well wisher Bible metaphor man sowing seeds from the window of his car as he drives, as if the whole damn highway is a garden for his knobby plants. 

They are somewhat pretty, the flowers—fish fin purple petals with ragged indigo edges clawing out from their centers. Pretty, very pretty, until their warty little appendages touch against your leg as you walk. When this happens, all virtue of the plant is lost to its up close ugliness. Any beauty, edibility, medicinal qualities, all lost to its up close ugliness. 

It takes some time to build up a hatred like this. As I first began my trip, purple witch tits were some small annoyance, nothing more; an easily ignorable irk. But a note to my someday fiancĂ©e: anyone who says that time eradicates the hatred of bad habits or little irritations, that person is full of shit. Anyone who’s ever had a college roommate can confirm that. There’s no hump to get over, no soft agreeable landing on the other side. Purple witch tits do not grow on you, unless you count reaching for my calves and ankles as growing on me. Within a number of hours, I’m prepared for the Sisyphean quest of ripping out each and every stalk of purple witch tit on Old Route 36, one by one, every single stem. Had I known at the time that purple witch tits fold up and lose their pretty color with the late evening, I would have counted the hours minutes and seconds with joy until their temporary demise, because with an ugliness so offensive, one can only wish even more ugliness upon it. 

Purple witch tits, then, are my primary companions on my trip. I later find out that this plant is known in real life by real botanists as chicory, and I resolve never to eat chicory again, if only to decrease demand for it.

Also among my companions are the only slightly less common pink candy noses (milkweed) and the little white-flower weed too boring for me to assign a fake name to (Queen Anne’s lace). I don’t know why these weeds are so wildly omnipresent on Illinois highways, but I hate them all in equal individual ways like a mother loves her children. 

My only respite from the gaudy pink white and blue flower parade on the roadside and the horrific dangers of the road itself is the train tracks running alongside the highway about 15 meters to the left. It is my secret bitter conspiracy that railway builders space out the sleepers just close enough to make them incredibly awkward to walk upon. It comes to mind that walking on rail tracks might be illegal, but this is America, and I’m innocent until I know I’m guilty, so to hell with it. Now where is my hobo pack? I should look good, in case someone takes a picture. Off in the distance ahead a horn bleats and wails and hollers, and whoop off the tracks for a minute, wave to the conductor, back on the tracks. A half an hour later a big giant one carrying a bunch of steel boxcars comes chugging and roaring and global warming from behind me, and I can only imagine it must’ve simply exploded through the one I saw going the other direction earlier and kept on going unhindered. 

I don’t like trains, no matter how much I like American tradition. They’re grotesque, hot, steamy slabs of iron riproaring across the serene farmland, big metal brutes, blunt instruments trying to slice open the land and doing a pretty good job of it, if you ask me. There’s nothing good about a train these days. 

One thing the tracks illuminate even more than the road is the endlessness. Maybe something about the narrower tunnel of vision unraveling away for days, straight as an arrow, don’t even think about wavering from this eternal line, here to the Atlantic, rigid and true American, austere, stolid, UNCHANGING. Simple and clean. Nothing to misunderstand about it—you’re alive and in the grass, and what else so you want?

I’m getting a little uncomfortable in the heat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

College V: Ace or disgrace

Lately I've been writing like I'm going to live forever.

"That's an interesting thought. ... That'd be interesting to write about. ... I could probably write something really cool about it. ... If it was Wednesday, I think I'd post about that. ... But I won't. ... Because it's not Wednesday. ... Or something."

I've been using my computer less, on a related note.

Whatever it is inside me that gives me the need to write, totally gets off on being withholding. Too busy humping the legs of compliments and giving puppy-dog eyes over my readers' shoulders to realize that I've been reading a lot, and there's a lot of stuff to read, and none of it is mine anymore because I'm reading so much that I don't write.


I had a moment of weakness, where I enjoyed the thought of wanting to write about something. I thought about reflecting on my summer and comparing myself to where I was two years ago before I left for college my freshman year. I didn't even have to write it to get the pleasure out of it. Instead of masturbating, I have waking wet dreams on command. My arm's getting less work. Can't push a pen very well with a weak arm. 

Writing used to be an embodiment of the life. A sacred stakeholder in uncertainty. It was my muse and my ruse. What do you want to be? they'd ask. A writer, so that I can write, I say. And then I remembered that Mark Twain wrote poetry and I thought "nuts, I don't do that." I am a one-weaponed warrior. While others boast arsenals of broadswords and sniper rifles and shurikens, I call myself a fighter holding an unblemished flail.

I'm here for the biggest and most important semester of my life. It's like the fifth sequel to a movie series about the biggest and most important semester of my life. It keeps getting bigger, being more important.

I worked my first day at Jimmy John's on Monday. Which included the following exchange:

Sara: Do you have the sandwiches memorized?
Me: No (sound of me dropping a tier in her mind). ... (I pick up a menu.)
Sara: Yeah, you typically won't have time to read the menu during your shift.
Me: Right.
Sara: I mean we consider that pretty much something to do on your own time.
Me: Oh, okay. (I fold the menu to put it in my pocket for later.)
Sara: Did you not get a menu when they hired you?
Me: Oh, um, well do you mean, like the sandwich study guide thing?
Sara: Did you get a packet? I'll show you-
Me: Yeah, no yeah, I got one of those.
Sara: Okay.
Me: ...
Sara: So.
Me: ?
Sara: It's just, those menus are really expensive.
Me: Oh, right. My bad. ... (Puts menu in pocket)

Sara's a manager, obviously. Vote for Jimmy.

After work I turned in my first article on the Illinois volleyball team. Writing it felt like working out for the first time in months. Finishing it felt like finishing my final set on eight reps instead of 10, because it was as many as I could do. I'm weak. I'm tired.

I'm back.

--Eliot Sill

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nick - True Stories About Jellyfish, Part 4

So last week I went to Shedd Aquarium, where the current theme is Jellyfish. Interesting, they call them Sea Jellies instead of Jellyfish. (They aren't actually fish, after all.)

The real reason I'm writing this is to show you these guys.

These are Jelly Blubbers (neither of the videos get their name right), and they are fucking awesome. That video is a minute long, but you only have to watch a couple seconds to understand.

Their movements are... mesmerizing...

I'm going to throw you one more video. I want you to watch the back of the tank, because at about 6 seconds one of them goes careening into the bottom of the glass and just sort of bounces off.

I mean, what else can I say? Jelly Blubbers are awesome.

Nature, man. Fuck.