All that separates us is a thin layer of grime.
It’s been a week since I had a shower or slept in a bed. That’s fine as long as you don’t need to cross back over and be a part of society again, but I did need to. My back tire was bald and I needed a new one; since I’d resolved not to take the money out of the 751, and there is no other money, I had to work for it. I’ve been doing pen-and -ink drawings of houses since Bowling Green, Kentucky and across the length of Indiana. As in: (knock-knock) “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. I do pen-and-ink drawings and was wondering if you might be interested in one of your house. Here are some examples of others that I’ve done…” They’re a good size for getting made into greeting cards.
But it’s hard to be taken seriously if you’re greasy, stubbly, your hair’s gone mad and you stink. I can’t even take myself seriously when I stink, and attracting flies is demoralizing. I’ve done the best I could, (shampooing my hair with the antibacterial hand wash in the Mcdonald’s restroom, then hunkering down under the hot-air hand drier because the nozzle doesn’t swivel), and sometimes feel pretty clean, but it gets a little harder every day.
A few days ago in Bloomington, Indiana, I played make-believe. After a vigorous and refreshing shaving, scouring, and shampooing I walked around the Indiana University campus and pretended I was a real person who had a reason to be there. It was a beautiful day and the students were just coming back for the fall, so lots of people were just wandering around. I looked people in the eye, smiled, exchanged greetings and nobody flinched; I was careful that nothing about me said, “Last night I parked my motorcycle behind a piece of construction equipment and slept in the dirt next to it.”
Going door-to-door is gruesome — 99 out of 100 people just wish I wasn’t there. There’s a look in their eyes that tells me they’re not even going to consider anything I’m about to say; these are the same people who, if I was hitchhiking, would refuse to make eye contact and just shoot on by pretending I didn’t exist. Denied the luxury of just driving by, forced to face me, I can see them frantically scheming up an exit strategy, an excuse to get rid of me. Very few of them can simply say no, so instead they hunt for an excuse or justification. This is ridiculous because I make it very easy to say no to me since I don’t want to work for anyone who isn’t genuinely interested, but they’re so crippled by vague fears and suspicions that they can’t even hear me. There are only a handful of people who actually listen to what I say, then check inside their heads for a second to see if they really want a drawing, but they’re like rays of sunshine. After a long series of refusals all I really want is to be considered as another human being, even if they still say no.
But a little like hitchhiking, the few who say yes make it all worthwhile. They’re enthusiastic, thrilled by the idea, and happy with the result. It’s very satisfying to work for people like that, producing something that they want and then giving it to them directly. Drawing has been very satisfying work by itself, and even if they’re only houses I’ve been proud of every one. I hate to part with them so I make photocopies for myself.
I feel like a ghost floating through the strip malls and suburbs. It’s no place for a person with no job, no money, and no clean clothes. I should be out in the country, riding, but the suburbs are where the people live and the strips are where I can find clean tables in air-conditioned rooms to draw at. Finding a place to sleep is hardest here. My resolve broke down and I handed over $30 at a motel outside Indianapolis, but when I saw the room I turned right around, got my money back and kept riding; every surface was crawling with filth and the stink gave me a headache. The ground is so much cleaner, and free.
$30 was cheap. If you make minimum wage then a night’s lodging is at least a day’s wages, if not double or triple. That seems out of balance, since we all have to sleep. It’s not as though it’s a priviledge you want to work all day for- sleeping is a right. If you work at the Mcdonald’s on the interstate then you can’t afford to travel, only to serve those who do. And as far as I know, none of the chains do much better than $6 an hour, including Barnes & Noble.
I’ve spent the last four days haunting the same Mcdonald’s and Barnes & Noble (with cafe), drawing feverishly all day, working from Polaroids. The Mcdonald’s has a wall outlet I can plug into and read over my e-mail as a cheerful break, but the Barnes & Noble has a superior bathroom with fantastic paper towels. They’re white and soft like a kitchen roll, but tough as cloth like something I’d expect to find at a garage, something you can really scrub with. I have no qualms about imposing on Barnes & Noble since I’ve worked for that company for much of the past year, and I don’t feel too guilty about liberating a few cents of electricity from international megacorp Mcdonald’s (if I’m in an independent truckstop or cafe I always ask before plugging in and usually offer to pay for it). I have the sense of being in an economic landscape so rich that luxuries like hot water and electricity flow freely off the the mountainous megastores and fast-food chains. But no beds.
It is lonely. All around me are not just people, but interlocking webs of people who know each other, who work together or have friendships or romances. Everyday life flows along the strands of the web making it tremble and flutter. I pass right though it because I am just a one dimensional point, unconnected. I need solace and hope to find that in land, somewhere west.
They can say representational art is dead, but yesterday it bought me a new tire. I removed and reinstalled the wheel myself to save a few dollars. I did it methodically, by the manual, and it felt like a hot, grimy holy ritual as I removed and cleaned and re-greased each part, then slowly put it all back together again, tightening, adjusting, double-checking. That tire makes me very happy. I feel like I won it in battle.
It is September 3 and I am in Lafayette, Indiana. I’ll be here for about 5 more minutes. It’s taken me 4,190 miles to get here and there are 520 dollars remaining, but now I know I can make more if I have to.